At least they got some unity out of this place.
Fang walked through twilight amongst what remained of Kohlingen. They set up their last fortifications here and the King of Figaro even brought his castle out a while back. A lot of manpower went into building it all up since, but their resources weren’t exactly forgiving.
Villagers chatted amongst themselves as they went about the day’s work. Men and women returned from the fields with handfuls of pickings that would keep people alive until the next chance to eat.
She herself wasn’t much of a builder or a farmer. Never was, even… before this. So she focused her efforts on the shifts she took protecting the place. Better not to let the desperate, feral monsters get close to what remained of civilization. This may not be the only outpost they had, but it was the one with the most resources.
And she was one of the only people here suited to the more vicious type of labor. The rest barely managed a single shift in the fields without complaining of exhaustion.
The last shift returned empty. No predator or prey to provide meat for the hungry. Despite that, they joked and laughed amongst themselves like their burned skin didn’t cling to their bones.
She much preferred this crowd to the others.
“Hey, Fang!” Sabin greeted her by the “village exit,” an opening in a pathetic line of fence. “Ready?”
“What do you take me for?” She pulled her spear off the clip on her back and clenched her fingers around its roughened grip. The monsters weakened with the rest of the world, but it was all the sport she could find. And sport was all she had to remind her she was still Oerban – a meaning she took for herself since no one knew where her name came from.
Sabin rolled his arm around his shoulder and it popped. “I thought you might get tired of night shifts by now.”
“And you might get tired of drinking clean water.” Fang spun her staff in one hand. “Give me a break.”
Sabin gave her an appraising look. “Not everyone enjoys these trips like you do.”
“Not everyone has their head on right.”
They left the village, ready for hours of the same thing all over again. Go kill a few dogs that didn’t have enough meat between them to feed more than their scrawniest kid.
The sky twinkled with distant stars beyond the clouds of pollution and a cool breeze pushed back the warmth that radiated from the ground. They walked at a leisurely pace and Fang slung her spear across her shoulders. This wasn’t so bad. The apocalypse understandably had people upset, but at least it couldn’t get any worse.
… Only, it could.
Sabin made it clear before that the king had yet to pull anything up with his advisors. The apocalypse didn’t end this world – the aftermath would.
Kefka did a good job, killing the soil that made up so much of the best land. Most of the water in the world was polluted at best and toxic at worst. Kohlingen did all right for itself, but that would only last for so much longer. Even if they took the time to transport all the drinkable water they could find and shore up on food, they had a matter of years at best.
Fang and Sabin fell into the routine they followed every night. Him on the left, her on the right, weapons out, eyes scanning side to side, up and down. Only the scarcest words once they started on the path outside and no distracting talk.
On the way they passed other sentries stationed around the village, but then those guys fell beyond sight when Sabin and Fang moved out far enough.
Such a quiet night. Insects chirped as the sun slipped past the horizon, but even those were hard to hear with their reduced numbers.
“Wait.” Sabin held a hand out in front of Fang.
She drew up short and looked for whatever caught his eye. Something moved in the plains beyond – horns glinted above gray skin. The form of something large, but not as bulky as it might have been once.
Destroyer. One that was not as attentive as its kind tended to be.
Fang rolled her shoulders and Sabin jumped forward.
The beast snapped to attention and charged their way. Fang leapt upwards, angled the spear down and-
It dodged just before she hit and the monster rammed straight into Sabin.
Sabin grappled with its horn and forced its face downward. It shoved him off.
Fang paused for a moment, impressed. It was a long time since they encountered any kind of monster capable of winning a strength contest with Sabin.
The man rolled onto his feet as the destroyer took a few steps backwards. It huffed and gauged them. It had a higher intelligence then most chocobos, but it still wasn’t smart enough to not try again.
It lunged at Fang, but she dodged away.
The beast hurtled past and stopped. Shook its head, disoriented.
And landed her spear squarely in between the shoulders before coming to a kneel on the thing’s back. Its feral scream pierced the air and vibrated beneath her.
Sabin came around on its side and Fang barely had enough time to retreat before Sabin knocked it over and slammed a fist into its skull.
It writhed on the ground, screeching. Fang watched those legs flail uselessly for too long a moment. She must have damaged some nerves there.
Sabin took the head and snapped the neck. Fang whistled and spun her spear. It would still be a few hours before she could clean it off, which meant walking around with a bloodied, foul mess. She wasn’t about to reclip it to her back, cloth out here was rare. No way she was going to damage what she had.
“Good thing we caught it.” Fang said between breaths. “Beastie woulda messed our place right up.”
“Should have put it out of its misery sooner.” Sabin huffed and stared down at the corpse.
“Oh, come on.” Fang rolled her eyes. “Not like there’s all that much meat to damage on this thing. Besides, the stress set in a long time ago.”
Sabin frowned at her, then looked back down at the emaciated destroyer. This would have been one of its last grabs for food. Pathetic.
Fang closed her eyes and focused on catching her breath – it wasn’t good to exert herself as hungry as she was.
Opened her eyes again. And breath caught in her throat. The destroyer was gone, replaced with the broken and bloodied body of a girl with pink pigtails. A girl whose chest still rose and fell with the shallowest breaths.
“Fang, snap out of it.” Jerked her head to look at Sabin. “You with me?”
She looked back down, but the destroyer was back.
Man, she hated it when people saw her space out – damn Sabin. “We were talking about the quality of this meat.” She jabbed the spear towards the corpse for emphasis. “It’s shit. End of story.”
Sabin sighed. “We still need to haul it back. Could provide a whole meal for some people.”
“And ain’t that just the best we can ask. You wanna go, or should I?” she asked, looking back towards town. They kept the lights off in the evening so as not to attract unwanted attention. Something everyone learned to do during Kefka’s rule. “Can’t say I’m excited to go back, yet.”
He gave her a knowing look. “I’ll go. You keep those predators away.”
She gave him a nod before he walked away. Sabin at least didn’t seem to care about her episodes, but certain others in the village were put off by… a variety of things. Not to mention that damned tail of hers that cropped up like a magnet whenever Fang came back.
This was just a precaution, leaving someone to watch the meat. There were so few animals around here that it felt unnecessary. Thankfully, the Veldt had hunting lodges set up and they could fall back there if they wanted.
Fang sighed and sat down in the grass. Usually the dark of night brought her contentment, but the destroyer set her on edge.
She closed her eyes for a moment and listened to the faint chirping around her. Listened to the dying wilderness and its fading inhabitants.
Imagined the way she merged with her co-predestined and felt the blood-boiling rage of a beast formed for the felling of a world. Muscles spread and transformed, arms grew from her back, and she lost the sense of self that she knew as a child.
Remembered the chilling cry that wrenched itself from her chest when she emerged from the boiling rock of Cocoon’s falling surface. The screaming death of a planet that yearned for the destruction of its sister world and the roar of a dragon spirit that swore its loyalty beyond the end of the world.
Snapped back to the present and remembered the faint breeze that teased her hair.
Something moved near the town. Fang snapped her eyes open and looked to find Sabin’s form become apparent a moment later with some half-dozen companions to assist him.
She jumped to her feet and left her spear sitting in the grass. “That’s something, at least,” she muttered to herself.
Gau bounded forward and sniffed at the corpse. “Good.” He grinned at her as he stood. His mannerisms were a little unnerving, somehow crossed between normal and wild. “Catch.” He grabbed one of the front limbs as the others – most of whom Fang didn’t know – took other parts of the beast and hoisted it into the air.
Sabin gestured for them to get started.
“Get it cooked up quick,” Fang ordered. “Don’t want any diseases breaking out, you know.”
Sabin nodded. “We’ll get it handled.”
“You’d better.” Fang stabbed her spear in the dirt and ran a hand through her hair. “I’ll not have you wasting my handiwork.”
“This isn’t the best you could do.”
Fang froze. “Ah, hell, how did I miss you there?”
Deuce stepped into view from behind one of the larger men. “Happens all the time.”
“Why’d you let her come, Sabin?” Fang hissed. “Bastard.”
Sabin shrugged. “It’s not my problem,.”
“We’ve run out of time, Fang.” Deuce pressed closer. “We can’t stay here any longer.”
Fang groaned and yanked her spear back to her. “Does that make sense to you, Sabin? Do you think we would be staying here if we had anywhere to go?”
“Where are you thinking about, Deuce?” Sabin asked. The girl had shown up a few weeks before and had yet to give Fang any semblance of space. She was insistent that Fang practice meditation and kept prodding at her with weird questions like Fang was some test subject.
“I…” Deuce shifted. “I wanted to stay and help everyone out. But… things have changed. You can’t stay here.”
Fang rolled her eyes. “What’s so different about me?”
“No.” Fang joined Sabin. “I’m not leaving my crew, little girl.”
Deuce opened her mouth to protest. “I suppose you have… a few years on me.”
“I hope you don’t mean what I think you mean.”
“I-!” Deuce flushed. “No, but-”
“We should get on with our patrol,” Sabin said. Deuce gave him a tight-lipped look.
“I’ll come too,” she said. “The more, the safer.”
Fang groaned as loud as she could and threw her head back. “What, I can’t even hunt in peace, anymore?”
“We don’t know what could be out there.”
“Actually, we kinda do.” Fang rapped the ground with her spear. “Been doing this for a while, you know? I don’t need some girl to tell me how to do my job.”
“I’m not just some girl.”
“My foot.” Fang gestured in the direction she would go. “Maybe I’ll let you prove it tonight, and if you’re right, you leave me alone.”
“I don’t think that’s-”
“I know what you think.” Fang started walking. “Made it very clear over the past several days, you know.”
Deuce gave a short sigh and followed. “You can’t take these things so lightly.”
“You telling me what to do?”
“I’m reminding you of the responsibility you gained when you gathered thousands of years’ worth of memories.”
“And people say I’m mad.”
Sabin shifted. “Maybe I should go ahead.”
“I don’t see why.” Fang gave Deuce a pointed look. “We’re fine, aren’t we?”
Deuce pursed her lips. “Of course.”
Their pace quickened and silence fell. Fang rested her spear against her shoulder and ignored the nagging sense that Deuce was right.
And that Fang knew that.
There had to be a way.
Sabin entered Kohlingen as the sun’s first rays shone over the hills. They had had so much hope when the balance was restored and Kefka fell. They held on to that hope even when disease spread, people died, food stocks emptied, and most towns were abandoned in the hopes of finding better land.
The Falcon roared in the air above him, right on time. Maybe Setzer would bring some good news from Thamasa.
A door opened beside him and Relm hurried out of the building she shared with Strago, Interceptor at her ankles. She jumped down the step and stood tall beside Sabin, grinning up at the Falcon as it landed near the town.
“Race you there!” Relm shouted before springing forward and sprinting towards the ship. Interceptor followed, working hard not to outpace the girl. Sabin chuckled and lightly jogged after her.
The ship groaned as it touched ground. Sabin still wasn’t sure why it remained upright when it did – Setzer wasn’t particularly straightforward when Sabin asked.
He arrived to see Relm jumping up and down as the crew disembarked. Cyan came out first, and Sabin’s heart dropped when Terra came next. She was slow and paler than when she left. After she set foot on the ground, Cyan steadying her, Setzer himself slid down the rope ladder. They made the right choice to get her kids adopted and put in others’ care.
“Did you get my books?” Relm asked with a clap of her hands. Interceptor barked at them and danced about in circles.
Terra gave Relm a wan smile and slid a bag off her shoulder. “I did, Relm. Here. A lot of them aren’t even that damaged.”
Relm squealed as she accepted the bag and peered inside. “Thanks, guys!”
“How did the rest of the mission go?” Sabin asked. Relm had tacked on the request for some of her old sketchbooks when she heard they were going to Thamasa, a land that used to be plentiful in magical energy.
“We found not what we sought.” Cyan gave Terra a worried look. She gave him an encouraging one.
“No, we didn’t find what we were looking for.” She spoke so quietly, Sabin leaned in to hear her. “But we did find some food and water that were untainted.”
“A godsend. You need help unloading?” Sabin rested a hand on his hip. “I can go get a few more hands. How many kegs?”
“Hundred-fifty-nine.” Setzer kept a hand on the rope ladder. “We’ve enough hands available to get them all down now?”
“Should.” Sabin looked to Terra. The food and water were a miracle to be sure, but they left in hopes of saving Terra. Without magic, she wouldn’t last the year.
“If you don’t mind, I’m going to check in on the kids.” Terra gave the group another weak smile before walking off.
“These are all so much better than the ones I have.” Relm closed the bag, satisfied. “All those projects I put off finally have a place to go.”
“One-hundred-sixty kegs.” Sabin whistled. “Must’ve taken most of the trip to load it all up. I’ll go round up some help.”
Cyan stood stiff and Setzer stretched. Relm took the bag of sketchbooks and ran, presumably to stash it all away. Sabin walked back into the town proper which exuded the first signs of energy with a handful of people exiting their shelters to greet the day.
“Hey.” Sabin paused as one of their newest family members approached, a lean man with pointed features, ridiculous blonde hair, and the flattest voice Sabin heard in years. “What’s the ship here for?”
“Delivering food and water.” Sabin clapped a hand on the man’s shoulder, but even that didn’t lift his spirits, going by the lack of reaction. “Help us get it stowed away?”
“Food and water?” asked another, Sazh. “You need to ask for help for that stuff? What is this world coming to?”
“Not much,” said the flat-toned one. Cloud, if Sabin remembered correctly.
Sazh grunted. “Good for you. We need more humor these days.”
“Glad to provide it.”
Sabin blinked at the two. Then left to find more hands.
Within the hour, he had almost two dozen people out and carting kegs through the town and into the storage cellar. By the time they finished, the place was almost filled.
Sabin exited the building with everyone else and brushed his hands off. The sun had climbed further and he knew it was far past time to check in with Edgar.
“Hey, Cloud!” A little girl ran past Sabin and barreled into the emotionless man from before. “It’s time for breakfast, right?”
“Right.” He took her hand and they went off to the food hall. Sabin shrugged. He didn’t have the time to eat yet. Instead, he turned towards the town hall where, at this point, Edgar should be.
He walked into the wooden building that smelled of dust despite its inhabitants. They used every bit of space they had in this town, with hundreds of sick living in the nearby Figaro castle itself.
Advisors and sagely figures, a ton of them from old Thamasa, milled around the main floor, discussing various things with each other and Edgar, who sat at a chair with a desk by the back window. Strago was here too, reading books from what had to be decades ago.
Sabin crossed the floor towards Edgar.
“Hey, bro.” Sabin stopped in front of Edgar’s desk and folded his arms. “There’s some good news and some bad news.”
Edgar looked up at him with sunken eyes. “Yes?”
Sabin forced a breath at his brother’s sickly appearance. “We found a load of water and nothing for Terra.”
“I heard.” He’d really thought that it would bring a little more energy to his brother. Edgar had been keeping atop all the supplies they had, and this was something they desperately needed. Edgar continued, “It’ll help us survive another few weeks, but our runway is just not enough. We’re looking at six months, maximum, Sabin. We need more than water. We need food, phoenix downs, potions. Setzer reported no signs of medicinals. Looters must have left the water because they couldn’t carry it.”
“It’s still something.” But Sabin couldn’t shake the words. They were dying. “What about the dragongrass herbs? That crop is about ready to harvest. Right, Strago?” He shouted the last words towards the mage halfway across the room.
Strago didn’t look up. “The dragongrass is drying out. We’ve already burned half the crop.”
“But not all of it.” Sabin glanced between Strago and Edgar, desperation clawing up his stomach. “It only takes a few months to grow. With the water we have, we can spare some for the herbs.”
Strago shook his head. “Depends on how much of that water we need for other things.”
Sabin spread his arms out to the side. “We can find more. Other towns might have stashes like Thamasa, more kegs that were too heavy for looters.”
“...Maybe.” Edgar stood and looked out the window. “The resources have lifted spirits, I see.”
“And they have work to distract them.” Sabin tapped the desk. “You’re stuck inside so you don’t have anything to get your mind off the numbers. You need to get out more, bro.”
Strago came their way before Edgar could respond and said, “The kegs are larger than Setzer reported. It might not be such a bad idea to try another crop of dragongrass.”
“The soil won’t revitalize soon enough.” Edgar turned away from the early morning light. “We must keep the water for the people or one of our other crops that show greater promise.”
“How much of it lives?” Sabin asked.
“We’ve estimated six percent.” Strago’s expression grew long and forlorn. “We could save maybe a few dozen of those sick if we ration it right.”
Sabin sucked in a breath. “That’s not good enough. Not to mention that you need some fresh air if you don’t want to end up with the rest of them in the castle and use up more of those herbs.”
“We’ve been over this.” Edgar waved a dismissive hand. “I’ll handle myself and you worry about everyone else.”
“That’s not how it works, bro.”
Edgar groaned. “Maybe not, but I’m going to pretend that it is. I suggest you do the same.”
Sabin growled and left. The air outside felt stifling in his lungs and he found himself missing the crisp forest air of before.
“Hey, Sabin,” came Terra’s voice when he paused outside the town hall. “We found another one.”
“Another what?” Sabin turned to see her and found a girl in dirtied, fanciful robes with Terra. She looked to be in her late teens or early twenties.
Another mouth to feed. He kept thinking that they must have had every soul left in this ruined world before more showed up.
“Great!” He forced a grin and reached a hand out. “Welcome! What’s your name?”
“L-…” She cleared her throat. “Leonora, sir.”
“Sabin Figaro.” He released her hand with a small bow. “Where you from?”
“Um.” Leonora looked about them. “Far away, I think. I’m not… not entirely sure how I got here. I’m, uh… alone. A nomad, I guess.”
“Well, we’ll take right-” Terra stifled a cough and broke into a fit. Sabin clenched a fist so hard, his nails bit into his palms.
“Are you okay?” Leonora asked, staff out. “I can try white magic, or…”
Terra eventually stopped and took a deep breath. “Please, don’t worry about it. This isn’t something anyone can help with.”
Terra’s other half needed magic to survive, but there was no such thing left on this world.
“Um, I don’t mean to impose,” Leonora said. “I’m um, I’m looking for a way off this world. If you happen to know where one is?”
Sabin scoffed. “If we knew a way off world then we would have taken everyone through it a long time ago.”
“I wish we did,” Terra whispered.
Sabin cleared his throat. “We’ll find another way. Just gotta keep looking.”
Leonora looked between them with nervous, darting eyes. Large eyes that made her look younger than he suspected her to be.
“This…” Leonora swallowed hard. “This world is dying. Isn’t it.”
Sabin let out a long sigh. “No. It died a long time ago. We’re just trying to put off joining it. I don’t know how you found your way here, but if you left something better behind, I suggest you retrace your steps.”
“It’s… not like that.”
Terra coughed again and made a rattling sound in her throat.
Leonora stepped forward. “Please, let me try at the very least.”
Sabin couldn’t find it in himself to object and Leonora stepped up to Terra before summoning white magic.
Terra’s eyes shot wide open before Leonora offered the spell and Terra absorbed it faster than dirt took water.
Color retuned to Terra’s face. Leonora beamed and Sabin felt a thrill of hope in his chest.
A flash of light and something cracked.
Leonora screamed and collapsed to her knees while Terra, glowing with an ethereal light, stumbled back.
Leonora put a shaking hand to a big jewel in her hair and drew it back covered in blood.
Terra blinked bleary eyes, dazed. “That was-…”
“Not good!” Sabin rushed to Leonora’s side. “We need medics!”
The woman gasped breaths and her arms trembled. Stared at her hand in disbelief.
Sabin swallowed his shock and looked at the broken jewel. Blood seeped from a huge crack in the center.
Leonora sucked in a breath, held it, and blinked back tears. “… If we don’t fix it soon, I’ll….”
“MEDIC!” Sabin picked her up and took to his feet. “We need help here now!”
Terra finally snapped out of it, but he couldn’t summon any relief for her recovery. “Wait, maybe I can give the magic back?”
Leonora gave a pained groan and lolled her head. “Doesn’t… work like that.”
Blood stuck to Sabin’s arm and he bit back a curse. “We’ll do what we can. Just don’t talk.”
They barely had this lady here for ten minutes and they almost killed her.
What a day.