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Reinvention

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All around Terra, the world is burning.

White hot flames leap into her hands and splay out from her fingertips. At first, the flames swirl around her, moving in synch with her breath. But, slowly, they run out of her control. Purple bursts of pure energy ascend further and further, more harshly, more ferociously.

The energy envelops her entire body. She’s flying and, under her, the land is torn apart. People scream at the sight of her. But, even as the world is rent asunder, it’s being reborn in the same breath.

Creator and destroyer – she is both. There is no emotion for it, although all Espers must feel it. There’s a raw truth to Terra, when she’s burning the world purple and grinning through her monstrous façade.

Terra sees the faces of her friends melting under the blinding white heat. It’s wonderful and freeing, and her human side is afraid. So terrifyingly afraid.

That fear is nothing compared to what she wakes up to, though.

It’s the middle of the night, and deathly quiet in Mobliz. Her bed is freezing and an ice-cold sweat has broken out on her brow. There’s a horrible feeling gnawing at the bottom of her gut.

Alone and cold. She’s fully human. And she can’t even summon a flame to warm her emptiness.

==

Terra reaches into the oven and pokes at the bread with a fork.

The exterior is hard, although the bread’s probably too doughy and pasty on the inside. But Terra’s not willing to let it burn like her last batch three days ago.

She pulls it out of the oven into a clean towel. She moves quickly, brushing Renard and Krista out of her way as she makes her way to set the bread down on the table.

Making bread has been a continued experiment on Terra’s part. She’s modified the recipe again and again, trying to make it tasty. But, even though Terra’s mind falls short in remembering the flavours and textures from the royal banquet halls in Vector, her tongue recalls better. Katarin had explained that this bread was unleavened, and to make the other variety, something called yeast was required.

The mystery of where these “yeasts” could be found eluded them both.

Terra shakes her head - this will have to do for now.

“Is the stew ready?” she calls to Duane, who is standing at the stove.

“In a few minutes,” Duane replies. “The squash is still a little hard.”

“We’re done washing the grapes, Mama!” Krista calls. She smiles and holds up the platter of white grapes happily.

“You mean I’m done washing the grapes,” Renard interjects loudly. “She didn’t do anything, Miss Terra! Krista just stood there holding the plate while I did all the work.”

“Oh, you think you’re sooo grown up, calling her Miss Terra.” Krista turns to kick at his legs, but Renard dodges nimbly.

“No fighting,” Terra says sternly, backed by a similar protest from Duane. “Since you’ve both done a good job, washing the grapes and holding the plate, why don’t you call Vincent and Maria in to set the table, and then the others to come eat.”

“Oh! Don’t worry about getting Katarin!” Duane cuts in. “She just laid down with little Tina. I’ll give her another five minutes before I call her in.”

Renard groans. “Ugh! Vincent and Maria are going to complain! They hate it when we make them set the table!”

“Well, you can pin the blame on me.” Terra smiles indulgently. “We all have to do our part here.”

“Except for Miss Relm,” Krista says in an undertone.

“Except for Miss Relm,” Renard agrees.

Duane stirs the stew and laughs. “Except for little Missy Relm!” The three of them share a laugh at her expense.

Terra sighs. The last time she forced Relm to help, she had pouted the entire time, and the night ended with a spectacular tantrum. Boiled potatoes had been hurled at the walls, and more than one person had walked away in tears.

“It’s not forever,” Terra protests. “She just needs a little more time.”

Terra shushes Krista and Renard, who are still snickering.

Renard starts out of the room, but Krista lags behind.

“You’ll get her and the other two, right, Mama?”

Terra bends down and kisses the top of Krista’s head.

“I’ll get Relm and the other two,” she agrees, and Krista nods and skips off happily after Renard.

Terra walks lightly through the building. The corridors are dark, since they’ve no money to spare for wax or lamp oil. But the children aren’t so bothered by these things. Their eyes are well adjusted to the darkness, and she can hear them talking and shouting and playing through the walls.

In the main entry hall, Terra finds the other two. She walks briskly to their place huddled against the wall.

Gau is sleeping, along with Interceptor, in the corner of the room. He’s completely naked, with his back propped up against Interceptor’s rump. His legs are splayed, and his penis is half-hard, and sticking up in the air.

Terra sighs to herself. She wishes he would wear clothes. The other children seem to admire him, for some reason, and it wouldn’t be good if they started imitating him. She should shake him awake for dinner and scold him for his indecency, but she doesn’t really want to.

So many of them have trouble sleeping, it seems wrong to wake somebody in the fit of dreams.

Terra finds a woollen blanket and flings it over the top of him.

Gau grumbles in his sleep and curls into the blanket.

“Sleep well,” Terra says. She doesn’t bother to keep her footsteps light, as she walks away, but she’s careful not to bang the door. She pulls it shut softly behind her, as she moves out into the yard.

Relm is difficult to find, as she often is. Terra checks several of her favourite spots, before finding her behind the ruined townhouse, facing the trees in the east.

It’s almost completely dark outside, but Relm is still at her easel.

“Hello,” Terra greets, even though she doesn’t expect Relm to respond.

Terra steps forward and squints at the painting. It’s a picture of a black, furry monster, dashing between the shadows of a dark forest. Relm is scratching in the motion lines that would have once brought the monster to life. Now, the lines only serve to obscure the image.

Relm has had trouble adapting her style to stationary forms.

At least she’s not drawing another picture of Strago – horrible crumpled pictures with peaceful faces. Pictures of Strago as he was in death, never as he was in life.

Relm tries a couple more brushstokes, without her usual precision. She glances at Terra out of the corner of her eye.

Relm used to crave an audience for her painting. But now, more than before, she gets nervous when others watch her. She blots a couple more dollops of black paint onto the canvas, and then scribbles the image out entirely.

Terra gasps in protest. “Why would you-?” Terra protests. “You were doing well!”

“No I wasn’t. I was wasting paint,” Relm snips. She lays her brushes out on the palette and climbs down off her stool.

“It wasn’t that bad…” Terra says. “And now you’ve ruined the canvas, too.” She reaches forward to grab Relm’s painting by the wooden frame.

“No I haven’t,” Relm says, clicking her tongue in irritation. “Those were oils, not watercolours. I’ll just paint over it again once it dries. Need to make more paint first, though…”

Terra frowns, but doesn’t respond. She doesn’t know how Relm makes all her paints, but she does know it’s a time-consuming process of collecting the right dyes and pigments and processing them. Relm can spend all day just harvesting the materials. And Terra needs Relm’s help with other things around their home. It’s neverending – planting and harvesting crops, tending the sheep and dogs, weaving cloth, tearing down Mobliz’s empty buildings for scrap material... But Terra doesn’t have money to buy paint and canvas from the travelling merchants, and she doesn’t want to take painting away from Relm, when it’s the only outlet she has.

“Dinner’s ready, right?” Relm says shortly. She begins to leave. Tossing her paint palette on the stool, but carrying her brushes with her for washing.

Terra’s left behind, still clutching Relm’s painting close to her. She doing her best to see the value in what Relm does, even when she’s overworked and upset. And she dislikes when Relm belittles her own efforts.

“I liked this painting…” Terra says sadly. Even if she hadn’t really realised how much she liked it, before Relm went to ruin it. Terra looks down at the wet paint.

Relm turns around. When she sees Terra’s expression, she rolls her eyes.

“For heaven’s sake!” Relm cries. She steps forward, and rips the canvas out of Terra’s hands. “I’ll paint you something better, okay?! Just let it go!”

==

Interceptor is the first to realise they have a visitor. He bounds out of Relm’s room, sniffing at the floor and growling angrily.

Terra freezes. She’s stalking around the house, playing hide-n-seek with the children. Little Tina is strapped to her front, in order to give Duane and Katarin a little bit of alone time.

Interceptor faces Terra. He bares his teeth and hisses, and Terra’s afraid for a second he’s going to attack. Interceptor seems to like her well enough, but he’s not a mild dog with anybody excepting Relm, and Terra doesn’t trust him not to bite.

She steps out of his way, pulling Tina behind her to shield her defensively.

Her worries are for naught. Interceptor bounds past her into the entry hall. He stands at the door and barks loudly.

Terra follows him, and peeks in the room just in time to see Gau tumble out of nowhere.

Gau bounds forward on all–fours. He hisses, charging right into Interceptor.

Interceptor turns to snap at him, but Gau manages to grab Interceptor by the scruff of his neck and pin him to the ground.

Interceptor whimpers, and Gau stretches out from on top of him and sniffs the air.

Gau immediately brightens.

“Friend! Sabin! Here!” he announces. He turns to the ceiling and howls, loud enough that the sound reverberates through the entire building.

And with that, he reaches up to swing the door open, and disappears outside.

Interceptor stays behind. He whimpers again, from where he’s curled up on the floor. He’s not a young enough dog anymore, to be playing with Gau like that.

Thea climbs out from behind the couch in the front room. She faces Terra.

“Did Gau say Uncle Sabin?” she asks brightly.

Terra nods and turns around. The other children are also reappearing from their hiding places, the game of hide-n-seek forgotten in the commotion.

Tina has woken up as well. She’s struggling against Terra’s chest. “’ama!” she cries.

First things first.

“Rel-!” Terra begins to call. She means to call Relm, to help keep Interceptor back. But Relm is already halfway out in the hall, a step ahead of Terra.

Relm turns into the entry hall. “Interceptor! Here!” she commands sternly.

Interceptor stands and returns to Relm’s side. His tail isn’t tucked between his legs, but it’s drooped lower than usual.

“Gau pinned him,” Terra explains, and Interceptor goes forward to lick at Relm’s hand.

Relm doesn’t respond to her. Instead she bends down slightly to Interceptor’s height and coos.

“Was Gau mean to you?” Relm asks. “Well, serves you right, you big brute.” But she runs her hand lovingly over Interceptor’s head anyhow.

Relm turns and drags Interceptor back to her room, and Terra wants to tell her to stay and see Sabin, but there’s too much else going on right now.

The children are gathered near the front window, shoving each other to the sides so they can peer out over the sill.

“They’re fighting,” Bella says shyly.

Terra steps forward to shoo the kids away from the window.

Gau and Sabin are tumbling on the ground in the field outside. Sabin’s trying to elbow Gau in the gut, while Gau chews on Sabin’s arm. Though, the fight seems to be at its final stages, judging by how lethargic their attacks have become.

Terra draws the curtain closed, to cries of protest from the children.

Tina is fussing (“’ama!”), and Terra swings her down out of the sling and sets her carefully to the ground.

“Ben,” she says, turning to one of the children. “Take Tina to Katarin, and get Duane. Tell him to fetch the cart, in case we need it to carry in supplies.”

Ben pouts, but nods before taking Tina by the hand, and leading her off into the hall.

Terra curses under her breath. She had nearly forgotten… “And make sure you knock on the door first!” she calls after them.

When Ben calls back in the affirmative, Terra turns to the rest of the children. They’re eyeing the front door enviously.

Terra steps pointedly in front of it.

“Don’t you dare run outside and get into the middle of their fight,” she says sternly.

“No need to worry!” a voice booms.

Terra turns.

Sabin bends down and twists through the door frame. Gau has predictably lost their fight. He’s slung over Sabin’s shoulder, with his arms and legs clamped together in Sabin’s grip. He’s struggling weakly, chomping on the top of Sabin’s head and getting drool all over Sabin’s blond hair. But the gesture seems more affectionate than hostile.

“Uncle Sabin!” the children cry. They all gather around him in a circle, reaching up to grab at him.

“Hey guys!” Sabin says. He nods to each of them and greets them by name.

Foyle. Bella. Krista. Renard. Vincent. Maria. Thea. And where’s Ben?

Sabin pulls Gau off his shoulder and sets him gently back down to the ground. Then he kneels down and stretches his arms out straight.

The kids all grab ahold, and Sabin stands. He swings all seven of them up into the air at once, to squeals of delight.

Sabin watches carefully, as he swings the children back and forth, hanging from his arms. He makes sure the children don’t get hurt. He doesn’t look to Terra until they’re all safely back on the ground.

Then he grins at her.

“Good to see you, Terra!”

Terra fidgets slightly, before smiling back.

“Good to see you too, Sabin,” she replies sincerely.

==

Sabin hasn’t brought as many supplies as Terra had hoped – only some packages of wheat meal and dried berries, and a new length of rope.

Terra tries not to be disappointed, because even though more supplies would be a blessing, she’s happy to have Sabin visit regardless of the benefits.

Although, there are many benefits.

“Sabin eats enough for three people, and does the work of ten,” Duane likes to say, as he stirs an extra pot of stew on the stove.

And it’s true. Sabin ploughs the fields, in preparation for the coming spring. He helps pull the last of the good lumber out of the ruined buildings. He chops firewood, and does more than his fair share of heavy lifting.

And, best of all, he monopolises the children for the entirety of his stay.

Or maybe it’s more accurate to say the children monopolise him for the entirety of his stay.

They follow him around, as he’s trying to work. And Sabin obliges them with smiles and advice and stories. Sabin’s good at telling stories in that dramatic way that Terra has never figured out how to do. He always knows when to pause and when to make a face, when to gesture with his arms and when to rile the children up with questions and gasps and shrieks.

Afterwards, the children always complain when Terra goes back to telling the stories.

“You always make it sound so boring, Mama!” they whine. Even though the story is about wizards and dragons, and love and treachery, and Terra has no idea how that could be made boring.

“You do speak in monotone, sometimes,” Sabin says. “Especially when you’re reciting something… But don’t worry, you’ll get it with practice.”

He stretches his arms above his head.

It’s late. Terra and Sabin are sitting at the table and drinking cups of hot water, since they’re out of tea. Everyone else is asleep – although Gau is curled up in the corner of the room with a couple blankets, rather than sleeping in his own bedroom. Whenever Sabin comes to visit, he won’t even leave the room.

“I only know how to tell stories so well, because I was a sickly kid,” Sabin explains. “All I could do was lay in my bed, and listen to the nursemaids read to me, over and over. You can’t help but learn, if you spend your childhood listening to them.”

And you can’t help but not learn, if you spent your childhood with no one to listen to.

Something must show on Terra’s face, because Sabin suddenly becomes sensitive to the words she hasn’t said.

He reaches forward and pats her forearm gently.

“Don’t worry. You’re doing well,” he assures her, before leaning back in his chair and gulping down some water.

“I’m thinking of hiking up the coastline with Gau. I was going to teach him how to catch and salt fish,” Sabin explains. “Should be back in a couple of weeks. Hopefully with lots of herring.”

Terra nods. “That sounds good,” she agrees.

She pauses a moment, shooting a look to Gau in the corner of the room, before asking.

She doesn’t want to make it sound like he’s not welcome, but…

“I always wondered why you had Gau stay with us,” she says.

Sabin flinches. He frowns, ever so slightly, and then smiles over it, as if to deflect all insecurities.

“On the subject of learning, how will he learn how to be with people, unless he stays with them?” Sabin says nebulously.

Terra sips at her water and hums to herself.

“And how will you learn to be alone, unless you are alone?” Terra says.

“Exactly,” Sabin says, relieved to have an out. He throws a guiltily affectionate look over at Gau. It isn’t very subtle.

Edgar didn’t let you abdicate the throne so you could pursue your dreams. He let you abdicate because the court intrigue would have seen you slaughtered, Terra thinks.

Terra smiles.

She likes how earnest Sabin is.

“I asked Celes to show me how to fish once, actually,” Terra diverts. “She seemed really upset… Visibly so, I mean. She said she’d never touch a fish again in her life, if she could help it.”

“Huh, really?” Sabin replies, baffled. “Well then, maybe Gau can show you how once I teach him.” He laughs at the absurdity of the hypothetical. “That’d be a learning experience for everyone.”

They talk about different things for a while. Small talk. Gossip.

And, at some point, Sabin laughs and inexpertly changes the subject.

“So… when are you going to make an honest man out of my brother?” he says, grinning.

Terra feels herself tense. She forces herself to take a sip of her water, and taps her toes against the ground.

“I don’t think there’s a person alive that can make an honest man out of your brother,” she says. She’s smiling, but her words are sharp enough to cut glass.

Don’t put that responsibility on me.

Sabin laughs and holds his hands up in surrender.

“You may be right but, you know, he does care very deeply for you.” Sabin smiles good naturedly. “And he does need to secure himself a wife and child at some point, so it’d be nice if it could make you both happy in the process.”

Terra hums noncommittally, and takes another sip of her water.

Sabin knows as well as she: It’s not a wife and child Edgar needs – it’s a queen and heir. She could love Edgar. She could even bear his children. But she can’t imagine ruling alongside him.

She wouldn’t tell Sabin this, but the thought of being Edgar’s mistress is far more appealing than becoming his wife.

Sabin doesn’t clue into the reasons for her reticence. He smiles widely. There’s a bowl of fruit in the centre of the table, and he picks up an apple. He takes a big bite which he swallows whole.

He eats with gusto, and Terra blushes and looks down at her hands.

And she definitely wouldn’t tell Sabin this, but she finds him and his brother attractive in exactly the same way. The broad shoulders and strong arms. The strong facial features and easy grins. The way they’re both so protective of the people they like, and how they’re so passionate about everything they do. Relm has made several derogatory comments about how Sabin’s resistance to female charm has less to do with ascetic training, and more to do with a natural disposition towards other forms of charm. And even if Relm’s wrong, Terra knows Sabin isn’t interested in her like that. But, even so, Terra wants to wait until she can better distinguish between their good points, before she pursues anything with Edgar.

“Sometimes I think I have no idea what I’m doing,” Terra admits to Sabin.

Sabin hums. He speaks around a mouth full of apple, and Terra can’t help but giggle, amused by his bad manners.

“Really?” he asks. “It often seems like you’re the only one of us who does have an idea of what they’re doing.” He swallows, and gives her a toothy grin full of little red flecks of apple. “But, hey, glad to know I’m not the only one.”

==

Figaro Castle is empty when she visits.

It doesn’t really make sense that the hallways are swept free of sand, or that the lamps have been lit, or that the cupcakes have been baked, without anybody around to actually do those things. But Terra dismisses the thought.

It’s dream logic, so it doesn’t require an explanation.

Edgar is sitting next to her at the table. He’s pushing a plate with five cupcakes at her.

Make yourself at home, my lady.

It’s a very Edgar-esque thing to say.

The cupcakes taste like cherries, and Edgar has a blueprints set out in front of him. He’s trying to invent some kind of automatic weapon that shoots both arrows and bombs. He’s shows the blueprint to Terra but, when she wrinkles her nose, he pulls out a second plan. This one is for a mechanic sewing device. Terra likes this one better.

Then he pulls out a third blueprint, which is for a device that will toss salad.

Edgar seems very pleased with his salad spinner, and it’s all very silly at this point. Terra can’t help but giggle. Edgar laughs, and raises his hand to snap his fingers, at which point the cupcakes and blueprints disappear.

The moon is bright above the desert, and Edgar and Terra are walking. They’re talking, although Terra can’t tell what about.

But then things speed up. They’re riding on the back of a Chocobo.

A romantic Chocobo ride!

But they had ridden Chocobos before hadn’t they. Figaro Castle had disappeared underground. Soldiers in Magitek Armour had been chasing them.

That was magic! MA-GIC! Edgar had cried, shocked.

But Terra can’t do that anymore. She-

Edgar’s at the top of the tower. The rubble is crumbling under him.

I thought you could do magic, Edgar says. She can hear him clearly, even though he’s all the way at the top of the tower, and Terra’s stuck down in the sand. You aren’t any use to me without magic.

Except that’s not a very Edgar-esque thing to say.

No, that’s Terra at the top of the crumbling tower. It’s Terra whose face curls in utter disgust, before burning purple.

You used to be able to fly up here like nothing, Terra tells her. You sold yourself out, trying to get rid of him. What are you without me? Terra’s face breaks into a painted white and red grin.

And then Terra, the human one, is at the top of the tower. Except she can’t stay up here! She’s about to fall. She’s flailing, tumbling down.

How did you feel, when you flung yourself off the cliff? Terra asks.

Celes’s face is carefully composed. Her sides of her mouth don’t so much as twitch as she goes to answer.

I don’t know, Celes says. I wasn’t really thinking or feeling at all. And I wasn’t expecting anything to save me. I wasn’t expecting to fly. Or for Setzer drive by in his airship and catch me…

But something did save you, Terra says.

Celes closes her eyes. She doesn’t reach forward to catch Terra.

Something did save me, Celes says.

Terra wakes up.

Cold, she thinks. She shivers.

==

“Sabin was here a couple of days ago,” Terra says. Her hands are soaking in the cold water of the wash bin, as she scrubs and wrings the laundry.

Relm is sitting five feet to the right. She’s painting, and has pointedly refrained from offering to help with the clothes.

“I know he was here,” Relm says, with as much disdain as she can manage. “He dragged me out of my room and forced me to go for a piggy-back ride.”

Sabin spent a full fifteen minutes prancing Relm around on his shoulders, ignoring the jealous shouts of the other children. Relm had scowled the entire time and, at one point, almost crashed headfirst into the chandelier, after refusing to duck on command.

“He was just trying to cheer you up,” Terra says. She feels defensive on Sabin’s behalf, even though she thinks he could have been more gentle.

Relm has nothing to say to that. She continues painting without a word.

Terra wrings out more of the laundry and stands.

“He’s gone now anyhow,” Terra says. “Along with Gau. They were going to go fishing, and bring back lots of herring. Doesn’t that sound good?”

“I hate fish,” Relm says, a little too quickly. She covers her brush with paint.

Terra takes a deep breath.

“There are ways to cook fish, so that it has a weaker taste. I’ll see if Duane and Katarin know any recipes-”

“I hate how you keep doing stupid things, to try and make me happy,” Relm snarls.

This line of conversation isn’t going anywhere, so Terra drops it. She bites her lip and lays the laundry across the line.

She’s trying to think of a tactful way to breach the main topic. There is none, but Sabin left her this information and this responsibility, so she cannot hold her tongue. She just has to say it.

“When Sabin was here, he told me…” she begins innocuously. “Sabin told me that Setzer ran into Shadow on the outskirts of Kohlingen.”

Relm bristles, as expected. She slathers her brush with grey paint and stabs at the canvas in front of her.

Terra soldiers on. “Apparently, Shadow’s still chasing bounties, still taking jobs, and he sends his wishes. He says he’ll visit when he saves up enough gil- as a present.”

There’s a pause, as words are carefully measured. Relm doesn’t look at Terra as she speaks.

“I don’t give two shits what that old fart does. Tell him he can kiss my ass, and I’ll throw him off a fucking cliff for his troubles!”

Terra sighs. She wrings the water out of a pair of little knitted socks, before hanging them on the line. She doesn’t have a way to get a message back to Shadow anyhow, but…

“You shouldn’t say things like that. He might actually go through with it,” Terra warns.

Relm only frowns more deeply, swiping at her canvas in angry strokes. She’s only drawing clouds, to fill in the background.

“He’s a good man,” Terra defends. “He’s been through a lot, and he’s trying very hard-”

The paint palette flies through the air at Terra, and lands on the grass at her feet. The colours have splattered everywhere – on the laundry, on the grass, even on Relm herself.

Relm is turned towards her, and glaring.

He’s been through a lot?” Relm repeats. “No! Duane’s been through a lot. He saw his, and everybody else’s, parents die in the Light of Judgement, and he’s terrified of being a father! He’s terrified and afraid, and he’s thought of running away more than once. But he’s still here, every day, taking care of Katarin’s girl and making stew for everyone and chopping firewood and giving everyone kind words!

“Sabin’s been through a lot. But he still takes time away from his wandering every month to visit Gau and take him on training vacations. And Edgar’s running an entire kingdom, but he writes us letters and send us gifts and- And Cyan and Lola, and Celes, and-”

Strago.

“We’ve all been through a lot.” Relm glares. “But that man abandoned me as a child. And even now, he’s come up with another excuse to put off visiting! So don’t you tell me what a good man he is. I don’t care about him!

Relm turns back to her painting, but her brush and palette are laying in the grass where she’s thrown them. She swings her hand angrily at the canvas.

Her painting and the easel fall backwards onto the ground.

Her palm is covered in grey paint, and Relm is left sitting on her stool, with nothing around to shield her except air.

He’s your father. You should care about him, Terra wants to say.

You don’t get to decide who you care about, she can hear an imaginary Relm saying.

Ah, that’s right, Terra thinks. Relm could no more decide to care about Shadow, than she could decide (could pretend) not to care about him. It was a waste of an argument.

But, still, it bothers her. Because…

“I would have killed for a father like him,” Terra whispers, as softly as she can.

She’s thinking of her Esper father, Maudin, who had crystallised before she had even gotten to know him.

But that’s not who she’s thinking of most.

To be ten years old, and have a father like Shadow appear out of the blue and whisk her away, even if he never told her who he was…

Fourteen-year-old Relm’s hearing is too acute for her own good. She snorts humourlessly when she hears Terra’s words.

You’re not exactly the person I want to hear that from.” Relm clicks her tongue dismissively. “Take it from somebody who knows better. Your standards are too low. If you’re going to kill for a father, you should at least wait it out for someone as good as Strago.”

Terra wilts.

It hurts. Partly because Relm said it to be hurtful. But it hurts more because perception and a sharpened piece of truth are the only tools Relm needs to make her bleed.

Terra flings the clothes off the clothesline and throws them back into the wash basin. Relm’s outburst has left little spots of multi-coloured paint on the cloth. And Terra needs to wash the paint out now, before it sets.

Relm slides off her stool and goes to collect her art supplies. She sets up her easel, and places the canvas back up. She finds her palette, and bends down over the grass to search for her brushes.

They sigh together, and it’s a long time before they talk again.

“I can’t believe he survived,” Relm says, kneeling down on the ground. “I can’t believe he stayed behind to die on the Tower of Rubble, and he still survived the fall.” Relm snickers. She smiles. “The idiot can’t even die correctly. What a failure. It’s a wonder he keeps on going… And doesn’t try to off himself again.”

Relm hums to herself. Relieved, disgusted, but not ashamed.

Terra flinches. This is why Celes gets so quiet when you’re around, Terra thinks.

Shadow had woken up outside of Tzen, with the Tower in pieces all around him, and nothing but the rags on his back.

Terra had woken up in the mines of Narshe, strapped into a piece of Magitek Armor, with half a lifetime’s worth of memories missing and an inability to control her own body.

“When you wake up…” Terra explains to Relm. “When you wake up, there’s nothing you can do but stand up and keep moving. When you’ve been given a chance at life, against all odds, there’s nothing you can do but fight.”

==

The messenger eyes her warily.

“You’re Miss Terra Branford?” he asks, sceptically.

“That’s who you asked for, right?” Terra says.

Katarin nods reassuringly. She’s standing at Terra’s side, holding onto her daughter’s hands. She had been practicing walking with Tina in the yard – Tina had been a slow learner in this regard – when the messenger from Figaro arrived.

He eyes her one more time.

“The King described you… differently.”

Terra looks down. She’s wearing a woollen grey dress that trails down past her knees, a purple apron, and a pair of black sandals. She supposes even the most beautiful woman in the world wouldn’t live up to Edgar’s flowery descriptions. But even Edgar would probably not have imagined her dressing so… domestically?

“I imagine so.” Terra replies.

She looks back up at the messenger.

“You have a message for me?” she prompts.

“His Royal Highness Edgar Roni Figaro extends this invitation to you,” the messenger begins. He reaches into his knapsack and pulls out a regal blue envelope. “Would you like me to read it to you?” he asks.

“No, that’s okay,” Terra responds, reaching forward for the envelope. “I know how to read.”

The messenger seems sceptical of her claims of literacy, but he relinquishes the envelope anyhow.

Terra carefully peels open the wax seal. She’s seen the royal seal of Castle Figaro many times, but stamp of the desert sun never fails to impress her.

My dearest Terra, You are cordially invited…

The letter itself is no less grandiose, from the heavy stationary, to the impeccable wording. But Terra can’t help but be less impressed by it. It contains all of Edgar’s suave and majestic exterior, without even cracking the surface of his depths.

She likes it better when Edgar sends her little notes scribbled on the side of rejected engineering drafts. And she likes it best when Edgar visits.

But it can’t be helped that neither of them have the time.

She turns to Katarin.

“He wants me to go to the-” Terra peeks back at the letter “-‘Desert Snowstorm Ball’.”

A smile is carefully pasted onto the front of Katarin’s face, but Terra can still see her wince, ever so slightly.

“That sounds wonderful, Terra,” Katarin says.

Katarin’s worrying about the long round-trip to Figaro, and all the work around Mobliz, and how they’re going to manage all the children without Terra around to help.

Terra’s worrying about that too.

“I’ll have to think about it,” Terra says, folding the invitation back into the envelope.

The messenger coughs. “The ball is only a fortnight away,” he prompts. “We’ll need your RSVP right away, or you won’t be able to attend.”

That makes things really easy.

“I suppose you have your answer then,” Terra replies, tucking the invitation into her dress.

Katarin tries not to let it show on her face, but Terra can still sense her relief. Katarin stands a little straighter, and loosens her grip on Tina’s hand.

The messenger sighs. He bends down and pulls a couple of paper boxes out of his pack.

“I also have presents for you and a Miss Relm,” he says, handing them over.

Terra feels Relm’s present through the paper, before setting it aside. It seems to be several tubes of paint.

Her own present she unwraps, with Katarin looking over her shoulder.

It’s a beautiful red and green gown, with velvet trimming, a long skirt, and a low neckline.

“I believe it was for the ball,” the messenger snips. “But it looks like you’re in need of a new clothing anyhow.”

“That was uncalled for!” Katarin protests.

But Terra just stands there, unsure of what to say. She knows the messenger is only frustrated that he’s been sent all this way, for what he perceives to be nothing, but…

It’s then that Interceptor lunges around the corner of the building and attempts to take a bite out of the man’s arm.

“Aieek!” the messenger yells, as he runs off.

“Interceptor!” Terra scolds.

Relm appears shortly after Interceptor.

“Is the merchant here?!” she says excitedly, before turning to her dog. “Interceptor! Bad dog! You’ll scare him off!”

She runs after, before Terra can explain it’s not the merchant.

Later, Terra carefully folds the ball gown, wrapping it back up in the box so it won’t be ruined. She stows it in the back of her closet.

Katarin hesitates. She asks the question carefully, to make sure it doesn’t sound judgemental.

“You have been dressing very modestly lately,” she says. “Is there a reason?”

“…When we have bandits, it catches them off-guard,” Terra says. “They don’t expect a woman in an apron to be so talented with a sword.”

It’s not untrue.

“They don’t expect any woman to be so talented with a sword,” Katarin scoffs. But she smiles at Terra and accepts the non-answer.

==

“You dress a little bit like him.”

Terra wished it had been Relm who said that. (If it had, Terra could have dismissed it under the same banner as Relm’s other petty shows of cruelty.) But it had been Celes who said it, and she hadn’t said it with any malice. Only the cold chill of observation that exemplified how Celes saw the world.

Celes and Locke had visited, bringing with them a wagon filled with reams of cloth for the children’s clothes. Most of it had been in conservative whites and greys, but there was a splash of blue and green and pink every so often.

Everyone else had fallen asleep. Katarin and Duane had retired for the night. The children had been tucked into their beds. And Locke was snoring, drunk, in the armchair.

And Terra and Celes were chatting, and taking advantage of this opportunity to play with a deck of cards. It was more pleasant without Setzer around, prompting them to place monetary bets or otherwise make the game more interesting.

Terra can’t remember who had been winning their game, or what they had been talking about-

(Probably about how Thea and Ben had both glommed onto the green cloth, as soon as Locke had unloaded it from the wagon. Or about how Bella was more quiet, but she had been wanting a new pair of shorts for a week.)

But, abruptly, Celes had reached forward. She drew her hand through the ribbon in Terra’s dirty blond hair. She reached down and pulled at the sides of Terra’s deep magenta dress. She tugged it, adjusting it straight on Terra’s body, before flowing her hands through the scarves and ties at Terra’s waist.

“You dress a little like him,” Celes said, as she leaned back in her seat. “Not entirely,” she explained, “but you like the same kind of vivid colours, and dotted patterns, and sparkling silk and velvet.”

Celes looked at the lamplight, and she must have been seeing something Terra didn’t, because she smiled.

“And it doesn’t look like any of the colours should go together, but when you get enough of them together… there’s something beautiful and crazy about it.”

Celes caught her hand, and Terra gripped it firmly.

Terra looked down at the scarves at her own waist. She blinked – unable to believe what she was seeing.

“O-oh my god! I’m so sorry!” Celes abruptly realised her misstep. She pulled her hand away and covered her face, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I-”

“No,” Terra said, firmly. “I suppose you’re right. I never really thought about it, but I guess we do have similar taste in clothing.”

Celes’s palm dropped off her face, but she bit her lip and continued to look guilty.

“Well… you can’t exactly help it,” Celes rationalised. “He did raise you, after all.”

Terra wasn’t sure if you could be said to have raised somebody, if you stole their childhood and memories in the same fell swoop. But she was trying her best with these children, so she didn’t question it.

“I suppose he did,” Terra said simply.

That night, after even Celes had fallen to sleep, Terra had folded her magenta dress and scarves and ribbons, and set them in the back of her closet.

And she hasn’t pulled them back out since.

==

“Your brother invited me to a royal ball,” Terra tells Sabin, when he drops by to return Gau.

Sabin perks up almost immediately at the news.

“Ah, really?” he asks. “When are you going?”

“I think it was yesterday,” Terra says, by way of answer.

Sabin only looks at her for a minute.

Then he laughs.

“Figures!” Sabin guffaws. “You don’t know how you break his heart!”

==

Three days later, Maria falls off the eastern cliff.

Not into the ocean, thankfully, because Maria doesn’t know how to swim.

“Maria! Maria’s fallen!” Krista cries, as she comes running to the animal pen, where Duane and Terra are tending to the sheep.

Terra’s breathe catches, and she feels almost paralysed as Krista explains the situation.

Over by the northern end… She’s okay… I mean she’s hurt… Vincent’s an idiot and said he’s jump down…

Terra gasps.

“That’s downright foolish of him,” Duane says.

Krista turns her nose up. “That’s what I said. But it was the other boys managed to stop him.”

Duane turns to Terra.

“Let’s go,” he says.

Everyone meets above the ocean cliff, and Terra is absurdly glad Sabin brought a new length of rope when he visited.

You used to be able to fly, Terra reminds herself. You could have flown down there and back up again in less than a second.

Terra breathes and forces herself to move. She ties the rope around the base of a tree, right next to the cliff face. She tests the knot, jerking on the rope to make sure it won’t come undone.

The children are all trying to speak at once.

Mamaaaaaa!” Maria is wailing down at the bottom of the canyon.

“Uwaoo~” Gau whines.

Terra ignores them. She turns to Duane and Katarin.

“I’ll go down the rope and get ahold of her. And then you two can pull us back up.”

Duane nods. He’s holding onto little Tina.

He looks between Relm and Gau, before handing her off to Katarin to make the decision.

Katarin looks, again, between Relm and Gau, before handing Tina off to Ben instead.

They’re both ready. It’s up to Terra now.

“I’m going down,” Terra says, she holds herself steady and walks off the cliff.

Her hands grab the rope tightly, and Terra feels her entire body jerk violently to a stop.

She’s afraid. She’s afraid of falling. She’s afraid of making everything worse.

Terra shimmies down the rope.

I used to be able to fly. Who am I?

Maria’s attention diverts as Terra gets closer.

“Mama! Maaama!” she cries. And Maria’s usually one of the children that calls her ‘Miss Terra’ now. “Mamaaa! It hurts!”

Terra climbs down the rest of the way, to the last bed of rocks right before the ocean. She looks briefly up the cliff face, to where the others are looking down at her, before she runs to Maria.

“I’m here!” Terra says. “I’m here, Maria.”

“Mama,” Maria says, tears rolling down her face. She’s clutching her knee. “Mama! My knee!”

Terra examines it. It’s dislocated.

“Mama!” Maria cries. “Can’t you heal it! Please heal it! It huuuurts!” she sobs.

Terra places her hands, as delicately as she can, over Maria’s knee. She reaches for her magic.

But it’s not there. She grasps for it, but she can’t find it.

Terra starts crying too.

“Pleeeeease!” Maria says. “Heal it, like you used to!”

“I- I can’t,” Terra responds. “I can’t.”

“It huuuurts! It huuuuurts!” Maria cries.

Terra wrings her hands. Her entire chest feels empty. She bites her cheek to help contain it.

“It hurts,” Terra agrees.

She’d forgotten the words for this sensation. But that’s what Terra’s feeling, right? Pain.

“It hurts. It hurts,” Terra agrees.

Terra wipes the tears from her eyes and, before they can reappear, she grasps hold of Maria’s knee. As quickly as she can, she snaps the joint back into place.

Quickly. Before she can hear her child scream.

==

“Help me cut my hair.”

Terra half expects Relm to blow her off. Relm isn’t very given to doing favours these days.

But, against Terra’s expectations, Relm only frowns slightly before accepting the scissors from Terra’s hand.

She holds them by the blades, and examines the tarnished golden handle, before waving Terra over.

They sit in the grass, and Terra keeps her back as straight as possible as Relm lops off the flaxen curls. They collect in a pile all around them.

“How short?” Relm asks.

“Just below my ears, I think,” Terra replies.

Relm hums her agreement and the scissors squeak as they snip just under her ear.

Terra’s beginning to feel the tension release in her neck. She didn’t realise how heavy hair was.

“What brought this on?” Relm asks, as she hacks at the other side of Terra’s head. Terra thinks she’s lucky her hair isn’t so straight as Celes’s – so it won’t be so noticeable if it’s cut uneven.

“…No reason,” Terra replies, belatedly.

She had pulled her hair up and looked in the mirror that morning, and seen more than her own reflection.

Relm hums again, like she doesn’t really believe Terra. She runs her hands through Terra’s scalp, trying to pull the hair straight so she can even the ends.

“You aren’t worried about displeasing Edgar?” Relm asks. “I get the feeling he likes women with long hair... you… Celes…”

Terra laughs, and Relm pulls the scissor’s away as Terra’s hair bounces up and down.

“I’m not sure Edgar has a type, per se. Isn’t it just a coincidence – that we were the women around, and we all had long hair?” Terra asks.

Relm doesn’t reply.

“It’ll grow back anyhow,” Terra says. She smiles sadly to herself.

Relm reaches forward and snips a couple more times with the scissors.

“It’ll take a while though,” Relm says. “Aren’t you worried somebody else might steal him away?”

“Oh, someone like you?” Terra teases. “What was it he said to you? ‘Come see me once you’re a lady?’ Only four more years, Relm.”

Terra doesn’t bother to point out that it won’t take four years for her hair to grow out.

Relm’s ominously quiet. “If I’m still alive in four years,” she finally says.

Terra sobers. “If we’re still alive in four years,” she agrees solemnly.

Relm finishes with the scissors. She runs her hand along the grass, collecting a couple bundles of golden curls. Then she reaches forward, and presses the scissors and hair back into Terra’s palm.

==

Gau has interrupted Terra’s bartering at least twice with his howling. He doesn’t really seem upset, though, so Terra has a hard time figuring out why until the front door bursts open.

“Is the merchant here?!” Relm asks, bursting outside.

Gau turns to her.

“Over here! Here!” he says, shaking excitedly.

Duane is trying to hold Relm back, but Relm slaps him off viciously and dashes out from under his grip.

“Get away from me!” she growls at Duane, before turning to Gau with a more pleased expression. “And thank you, Gau, for notifying me.”

“Gau not bad person,” he replies, smiling contentedly with himself.

Terra sighs. She winces apologetically at the merchant, before turning back to the others.

She waves Duane off, intent on dealing with Relm herself.

“Go back inside, Relm,” she says firmly. “I’m in the middle of something.”

“Just let me handle it!” Relm says, stepping forward defiantly. She observes the merchandise that’s been placed out between them. “So it’s just this yarn, and the tea, and this jerked meat so far, right?” she questions.

Gau howls in agreement.

“Relm…” Terra starts.

“Let me do this… Or I’ll paint your picture…” Relm says.

The threat doesn’t really hold anymore, without magic, but it’s enough to startle Terra anyhow. It strikes her that it’s been years since she’s heard Relm say that.

Relm is pressing forward. “So… do you have any canvas?”

Terra watches, speechless, as Relm leads the merchant away by the arm, out of earshot.

Terra turns to Gau.

“What was that?” she asks.

Gau smiles at her. “Gau can’t say. Gau not bad person…”

Terra shakes her head. She goes to step forward, to confront Relm and the merchant, but something stops her.

Relm seems almost happy, as she gesticulates wildly.

Are you kidding me, mister?! I think you can give me a better price than that!

She pointing at items in the merchant’s cart and waving them out, and the merchant’s actually listening to her – unloading jars of pickles, bowls of spices, wax candles, building supplies, toys, a whole crate of potions… even a couple scarves made of the fancy and colourful silk that Terra still likes, but doesn’t wear.

By the time they’re finished, half of the merchant’s wares are piled down on the ground and Relm has an entire roll of painting canvas propped against her side.

Relm pulls a leather pouch from her pocket. She opens it and withdrawals a handful of golden gil, before tossing the rest at the merchant. He examines the interior, and seems pleased.

Then the merchant leaves. Relm waves Terra over.

Relm rolls her eyes when she gets there, though.

“You were supposed to get Duane to get the cart,” Relm says, as if this were obvious.

Which… it kind of is, when Relm gestures to giant pile of food and supplies behind her.

Terra ignores her. “Relm… where did you get all that money?”

Relm shrugs. “You know I did a couple of commissions for Owzer a while back,” she says, simply.

Terra feels inexplicably frustrated, so she turns and watches the merchant ride off with his cart.

“You didn’t need to… We don’t need…” Terra begins, softly.

“It’s my money,” Relm snaps. Then she shrugs off her irritation, and continues. “And, anyhow, the timing was too good.”

Timing? Terra mouths.

“Happy birthday, Terra,” Relm says.

All her frustration seems to vanish. Terra just stands there, dumbfounded.

“It’s not my birthday,” Terra says, finally, although that’s not exactly… “I don’t know when my birthday is,” she corrects.

“Uh- Sure you do,” Relm scolds. “Edgar told me that this day, right in the middle of winter, was the day Locke found you in Narshe. So it’s at least sort of your birthday.”

Terra gapes. And then she suddenly realises and pulls her mouth shut.

“It’s your birthday,” Relm says, petulantly. She frowns and waves at the wares behind her. “So here are some gifts! Whatever!”

Relm clutches the roll of painter’s canvas close to her, as if to exclude it from the gift, but Terra knows better. She steps forward and pulls Relm into a clumsy hug.

Relm protests, but she doesn’t actually pull away.

“Thank you,” Terra says. Because, more than the things, Relm has remembered her. She’s remembered something that is just Terra. The same way Sabin and Edgar and Celes and the others remember her, even when Terra forgets.

“What a wonderful birthday gift,” Terra says, tearing up.

Gau suddenly bounds forward, and Relm and Terra startle and pull apart.

“Gau helped, too,” he says, grinning at Terra. “So is Gau’s gift too! For Terra-mom!”

Relm frowns. She’s less pleased with him now that he’s demanding a share of the credit.

Ugh! Fine!” Relm groans. “I guess it can be your present too.” She cringes and pulls away, though, when Gau moves forward to nuzzle her cheek. “Go bother Sabin with that touchy-feely junk!”

Gau giggles, and Terra pulls him into a hug too.

And then Duane comes outside with the cart, to help carry Relm’s purchases inside.

“Oh, it’s your birthday, Terra?!” he asks. “You should have said! We can’t let you work on your birthday! …Why don’t you take the day off, and me and Katarin and the kids will take care of making you your birthday supper?!”

A birthday is such a wonderful gift, Terra thinks, as she wipes the budding tears from her eyes. A wonderful gift!

And yet, in some horrible way, it's still not the most wonderful thing Terra's been gifted.

In some ways, it doesn't even come close.

==

You know, Gogo dressed a little bit like him, too. Gogo wore the same patchwork of bright yellows and oranges and reds.

But Gogo had sat across from Terra on the Falcon. Terra had tapped her foot and bit her lip and propped her head up on her arm. She was fidgeting nervously, waiting to arrive at the Tower of Rubble, and it took her far too long to realise that Gogo was copying her every move.

Terra saw Gogo scuff their foot against the ground, just as she was doing. And she saw Gogo swing their arm up, just as Terra did. Gogo’s face scrunched up under their scarves, as Terra wrinkled her nose and, abruptly, Terra noticed.

Their eyes met at the same time and, just a beat before Terra was able to, Gogo smiled at her.

They giggled at the same time. And Terra felt her worry and tension melt away.

Gogo helped me feel better, when I was most scared. A kind person like that is nothing like him.

But...

You know, Edgar wore his hair just like him, too. They both had the same wavy blond hair, pulled up into a long ponytail that flowed behind them.

But when Terra had turned into an Esper, when she was still terrified of her own powers and almost lost control, Edgar had reached out to her and held her palm.

Her skin had burned him badly. And he winced in pain, but he still held onto her.

“A monstrous visage cannot tarnish pureness of heart,” Edgar had said. “You are you. You don’t have to be scared, Terra. I’m not.”

Terra had inhaled deeply and felt his pulse. And it led her back.

When she was herself again, she had apologised. His hand and arm had had to be bandaged and iced.

“It’s only a scratch. Think nothing of it, my lady,” he had said. And, with his good arm, he had held her hand up and kissed it.

Edgar had treated her like a person, and like a woman, before Terra had even known how to be those things.

Edgar helped me find myself, when I was most lost. A kind person like that is nothing like him.

Clothes and hair can’t make a person like him. Not if they’re kind.

Is Terra kind? She likes to think so. So why change her clothes and change her hair?

Because more than clothes and haircuts and cruelty, Terra is made of him in a way Gogo and Edgar will never be.

Because Gogo and Edgar don’t wake up in the morning, or play with the children during the day, or light the fire and look out over the moors at night, and think…

Who am I? How did I get here? How did I go so wrong? How did I end up making things so horrible?

What did I do wrong? How did I displease you so, Master Kefka?

And sometimes Terra catches herself. Sometimes Terra remembers that’s not how it is. She’s not his anymore. She didn’t make this world as it is. It’s not her who wronged.

And sometimes Terra doesn’t remember that. Terra remembers something else.

==

“You wanted to see me, Master Kefka?” Terra asked. Her bright red boots clicked slowly across the floor, as she entered Kefka’s workshop.

She clung to the stuffed moogle plushie she was carrying with her. She was afraid. Master Kefka might still be angry with her. She tried not to think about that, and instead focussed on the soft cloth of the moogle plush.

Her worrying was for naught. Master Kefka was in one of his good moods.

“Uwee-hee-hee!” Master Kefka cackled. “Wonderful, my sweet magic user, you’ve arrived! Just in time! I’m almost finished.”

He twisted his screwdriver, twiddling with something on the work bench in front of him.

Terra stood in place. She shuffled from foot to foot, and clung tighter to the moogle plushie.

Master Kefka swivelled around on his work stool, and grinned widely at Terra. Then he eyed the moogle plush and he grimaced.

“Eh! Son of a soupspoon! From what hat did you pull that out of?” Master Kefka asked, waving hostilely at the stuffed animal.

Terra clung onto the moogle plush even tighter, as if to strangle it. She didn’t want to tell, but…

“General Leo gave it to me,” Terra said, as quietly as she dared. “He said that every good child deserves a nice toy.”

General Leo had patted her head and assured her that, despite everything, she was still a very good child.

“Eh?” Master Kefka frowned. He spun around in his seat. “I’m surprised that fool isn’t more angry with you, with the way you burned up that soldier of his.”

Master Kefka tapped his foot against the leg of his work stool impatiently.

Terra hesitated for a moment, but she knew an explanation was expected of her.

“He said that Mister Derek would no longer be able to serve in the glory of the Gestahlian Imperial Army, but that the Magitek Knights were able to save his life – and that was of even greater importance.”

Master Kefka huffed.

“He survived because you were weak,” Master Kefka said, although it was without malice.

Terra frowned. She was happy Derek still lived, but it didn’t diminish the disappointment of her failure. She had tried hard to burn the Imperial Soldiers, but she had not succeeded in felling even one before tears and shame and disgust had overtaken her. She had vomited and fainted, and the burns on Derek’s disfigured face continued to tell the story of her crimes.

“I know,” Terra said pitifully. She was weak.

“Well, so long as you know it,” Master Kefka smiled. He nodded again at the stuffed moogle. “So… you like moogles?” he asked.

Terra was pleased at the change in subject. “I like moogles,” she agreed. She liked all animals, really. But she wasn’t eager to volunteer this extra information to Master Kefka. It might give him ideas. He sometimes had a bad sense of humour about these sorts of things.

“Uwee-hee-hee! That’s good then,” Master Kefka agreed. He turned back to his work bench and continued to put the finishing touches on the device he was working on. “But I have an even better gift for you, my dear magic user.”

“…Really?!” Terra squealed, unable to contain her delight. Master Kefka rarely lied, and she really liked the moogle plushie, so something even better than that would be…

Wonderful.

“Oh, absolutely!” Master Kefka trilled. “And I take full credit, since that lowlife Cid refused to help me entirely! Phooey to him!”

Terra fidgeted, pushing herself up on tiptoe trying to see the device on the workbench.

“Ah, patience, patience, Terra, my sweet,” Master Kefka laughed. “Well, it is only a prototype, so we might as well test it out now!”

He swung his arms dramatically down from the bench and revealed the device to Terra.

Terra reached forward hesitantly and, when it became clear Master Kefka would allow it, ran her fingers along the smooth metal band.

“What is it?” Terra asked, after a moment. It looked only like a circlet, and Terra was not all that fond of jewellery. It certainly didn’t seem as wonderful as the moogle doll.

“Ah, I realised that you were too weak to use your powers to your full potential, so I created this!” Master Kefka cackled, swiping the band out of Terra’s reach.

Terra frowned and curled in on herself, hugging the moogle plush. “I’m sorry…”

“Uwee-hee-hee! Why be sorry?!” Master Kefka shrugged. “This will solve all our problems. By having you wear this, I will be able to use your powers how they are meant to be used, and you won’t have to!”

Terra’s breath caught in her throat.

“I… won’t have to?” she asked.

“Nope!” Master Kefka grinned. “You won’t have to do any of it! No more burning! No more killing! I’ll be in charge of everything, and you won’t have to worry about messing up anymore!”

Terra gulped.

“You- you mean it?!” Terra said. She was almost brought to tears by how wonderful it was. “I won’t have to burn the soldiers anymore?!”

“You won’t have to burn the soldiers anymore.” Master Kefka smiled kindly.

(Later, Terra would find her stuffed moogle doll torn up and shoved in the dumpster, and General Leo Cristophe in tears.)

(But General Leo would never find a harsh word for her. She was so grateful.)

“Thank you! Thank you, Master Kefka!” Terra cried. “You’re too kind!”

“Too kind?” Master Kefka said, looking puzzled. He stared off in space for a moment, looking lost, before a wide grin broke out on his face.

“Why… I think you’re right!” he agreed, as he reached down and placed the slave crown gently over her brow.

==

Terra is standing in a sand-coloured town with blockish looking architecture.

She’s trying to walk, but all she manages is to stumble over her own feet. She can see the backdrop and the tan walls, but not what’s right in front of her.

Around her, they’re laughing at her.

Asura will cut her up. Leviathan will wash her away.

Terra tries to blink away the fog in her eyes.

Tee hee.

Terra shakes her head. Being laughed at isn’t pleasant, but Terra is used to more and worse. Terra is used to people fearing her. She’s used to fearing herself.

The landscape shifts under her, and Terra blinks. She’s standing at the edge of the building. Her foot has slipped, and she quickly throws herself backwards to avoid falling. Back onto the clay ground.

Tee hee.

Somebody catches her before she hits the ground, though.

“What are you doing?” the woman asks, as she picks Terra back up onto her feet.

Terra’s swung back onto sturdy land, breathing hard.

“Where am I?” she pants.

The laughter recedes as the woman talks.

Where are you?” the woman agrees. “You’re not quite here, are you?”

Terra squints. She can’t see the woman, though she’s standing right in front of her. The world ahead is a dark cloud of ink. In the periphery are the sand buildings. At the woman’s feet, the ground peels away, leaving a white web of dreams woven above the fiery abyss. All Terra can see of the woman are a pair of long sleeves dragging above that plummet, and deep green boots tapping against the ground.

“Where is here?” Terra asks.

“The Phantom World,” the woman says.

Phantoms?

“Is this the world of the Espers?” Terra asks suddenly. Her legs flash with purple flame.

All around her, whispers are starting up, but when Terra turns, she can see no one.

“The land of the Eidolons,” the woman says.

“Is that the same thing?” Terra asks.

The woman’s boots click sideways.

“I don’t know,” she admits. “You feel the same. Except for the fact that you’re not quite here…”

Their conversation pauses, as they ponder that.

“Are you dreaming?” the woman asks.

Terra coughs. All around her, the world shimmers.

“I don’t think so,” Terra replies. “Are you?”

The woman hums curiously. “I walked here from the real world, so probably not,” she says. “I went deep underground, and then deeper, until I couldn’t feel reality anymore.”

She reaches forward swiftly, and Terra’s caught off-guard as her lower lip and right shoulder burst into flame at the woman’s touch.

The flames do not hurt. They caress.

“Ah, wait-! I see!” the woman shouts joyously. “We are the same!”

She steps forward, closing the gap between them, and the town disappears. There’s nothing to hold Terra away from the shimmering colour and fiery pit, but Terra is shining. She’s flying, and the woman is holding onto her.

And Terra can finally see her face.

Her eyes are sharp, and her hair is the same shocking green as her boots.

“You should have grown up here,” the woman laments, but in a happy way. “That way, I could have summoned you. I could have summoned you, and then we never would have had to be lonely by ourselves! We could have been lonely together!”

The woman reaches up and presses a kiss to Terra’s forehead, and something deep within Terra shakes and flashes purple.

“Ah, Lydia,” Terra responds, as the woman bends down to touch her lips.

Terra reaches forward, and her hands pass right through the other woman. They’re ghastly shadows to one another, and Terra can’t see the woman anymore, but she can feel her.

One of her hands finally finds the small of the woman’s back.

“Terra.”

They’re not together, but they’re still close enough to touch.

==

Relm hands her a pair of paintings.

“I know I promised I’d paint you something,” Relm says guiltily. “But this isn’t it.” She averts her eyes. “I’m sorry… I was just hoping you could hang these somewhere… Side by side…”

Terra looks at the paintings.

One is in the stark contrast of black and white – Strago with his eyes shut, surrounded by blooming flowers.

Terra wilts slightly. It’s a shame she couldn’t be there, for the funeral in Thamasa.

The first painting in contextualised by the second, though.

In the second painting, Strago is alive.

His white Mohawk is painted in vivid red and blue and green, even though it was none of those colours. The shape of his nose looks exactly like Relm’s, even though they weren’t blood relatives, and Terra wonders if Relm modelled parts of the painting after herself.

But in spite of, or perhaps because of these anomalies, the image comes seamlessly together.

Strago has his mouth open and the bottom of his top row of teeth are visible, like he’s about to speak. The edges of his mouth are curled up, like he’s amused in spite of himself.

Terra remembers that expression. That was the expression he got every time he tried to scold Relm.

Relm is still rambling on, guiltily. Terra somehow gathers that Relm originally meant to gift her with a painting for her birthday, but she couldn’t get it together in time and that’s part of why she went so overboard with the merchant.

“It’s fine,” Terra says, without really listening. She smiles, once again, at the pair of paintings. “I’ll hang them up right away.”

Relm calms. She looks almost grateful.

Terra decides to push her luck.

“Can you help me make dinner?” she asks.

Relm scowls and makes a rude hand gesture at Terra before storming out the door. Interceptor bounds through the room, and follows at Relm’s heels.

Terra hangs the two pictures of Strago right in the middle of the living room wall and smiles.

He could never get Relm to do anything she didn’t want to do either.

It feels nice to share in that same legacy.

At dinner, the bread is too doughy, and the children are too rowdy.

Maria’s leg is healing well, even if it’s slower than they’d hoped.

Terra feels relieved somehow.

She can ponder how things should have been, should be, all she likes. But it’s how things are that Terra has to fight for.

That night, Terra writes a letter. She should have responded earlier. But the here and now are all that’s left.

That has to be enough.

Dear Edgar, she begins.

I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier. I was very happy to receive your invitation to the ‘Desert Snowstorm Ball’. And was very sorry that I was unable to attend.

The children are keeping me very busy here in Mobliz. But, except for Duane and Katarin’s daughter, the youngest is Foyle, and he’s already six years of age! They grow up too fast and too slow all at once.

Terra pauses. She dips the quill pen idly into her inkwell, before continuing.

I don’t know if I can say they rely on me, but I like to think what I’m doing here is helping. So I don’t feel comfortable leaving on short notice.

I do miss you, though, Edgar. I always assume you know that, but I wonder now if you do?

And I wish you’d come to visit me, too. Although I know you have your country and its people to look after.

Here Terra stops. She’s already responded to the invitation – provided her excuses, and more. The rest of the letter need only be what she wants to say.

Before she can overthink it, she begins again.

Today, while I was sewing, I pricked my finger with a needle and started to bleed. It was only a single drop of blood that welled up.

It didn’t even hurt, but I focussed as hard as I could. I put everything of myself into that moment and, somehow the blood receded and my finger healed.

Maybe it didn’t even matter. What is a single drop of blood? It would have made no difference if I had left it to heal on its own.

Or maybe I only imagined it. Maybe what I felt at that moment was only what I wanted to feel – not empty.

But it was important to me. It was important to me that there was a magic in me that even he couldn’t take away. I’m still trying hard to find all the pieces of myself. Pieces that are only mine.

I don’t want you to wait for me, but I hope you’ll continue to write. I hope this won’t be the last invitation that you send me.

Love,

(But not All my love, Terra thinks. All her love is too great for a single recipient.)

Terra


Terra signs her name with a flourish and places her pen to the side, next to the inkwell. She folds her letter and presses it into the envelope, along with a lock of her hair. She seals the envelope with wax from her candle and stands up.

She’ll send Relm and Gau to Nikeah in the morning, to hire a messenger to go to Figaro Castle. Or, perhaps she’ll wait until Sabin returns, and have him deliver the letter for her.

Either way, there’s nothing more to it. She holds up the envelope and studies the heavy make of the paper, before setting it neatly on the table.

Terra, I swear I’ll find you, she promises.

It’s still winter, and the temperature in Terra’s room is far too low. But her world feels a little less cold that night, as she dresses herself for bed.

She takes every single piece of cloth out of her closet, ball gowns and elaborately patterned silks and all, and throws them over her covers - to keep her warm throughout the night.