|Shards of Memory - Table of Contents|
Cloud ducked and rolled forward as Jecht's fist swung at his head, the air rushing past his ear in the limb's wake. Cloud rolled on his side and onto his feet, the heels of his boots digging into the dirt, as Jecht turned with the motion of his fist and charged again. Cloud swung the Buster Sword to knock Jecht's sword away, but Jecht flipped his wrist and swung the sword down. Cloud leapt back, the sword imbedding itself in the earth. Jecht scowled as he hefted his sword back over his shoulder.
"Stop running around and fight," he said, running forward and leaping into the air. Cloud looked up as Jecht spun his sword over his head, and leapt up after him. Jecht's eyes went wide and he swung fully on instinct, the two swordsmen again hearing the sounds of their blades clash. The two landed, Cloud in a crouch, while Jecht braced himself and landed upright. He let out a laugh and turned with a smirk.
"Now you're gettin' it!" he said. Cloud ran forward and swung the Buster Sword. Jecht parried and countered, and Cloud jumped back as the blade sliced through the air, missing his stomach by inches. The tip planted in the ground and Jecht turned, using the momentum to launch his feet into the air. Cloud landed and was flung back as Jecht's heels slammed into his jaw. He hit the ground and rolled heavily, stopping in a cloud of dust and dirt. He lifted his head and looked up to see Jecht overhead in mid-leap, his fist crackling with red energy. Cloud scowled and rolled away and to his feet. Jecht landed, planting his fist in the ground. He turned away from the small crater made by the impact to glare at Cloud.
Cloud swung the Buster Sword, the blade being knocked away. He twisted his wrist, adjusted his grip and swung again. The blade cut air, Jecht's fist swinging as it passed. Cloud pulled to the side and stumbled back as Jecht spun into another kick. Cloud narrowly ducked, dodged and blocked Jecht's blows, the blitzball star using the momentum of the last to immediately swing into the next. Cloud felt his back hit the mountain wall, and ducked, Jecht's fist slamming into the rock. Chunks of stone rained on Cloud's head as he reached into the pouch on his belt. Jecht looked down and made a face as Cloud palmed a glowing light green orb.
"What's that do?" he muttered. Cloud let out a cry and flung out his hand, a large ball of fire erupting from the Materia orb in his hand and into Jecht's chest. Jecht went flying into the air, and Cloud leapt up after him. Jecht turned his head as Cloud came towards him, and lifted his sword to block Cloud's strike.
"You've got a knack for scurrying around," Jecht grunted, grappling with Cloud. "Let's fix that." He punched, knocking them apart from each other as they landed. Cloud landed on his back and rolled onto his stomach with a groan. Jecht quickly jumped back into the air and swung his sword forward, shooting towards Cloud in an aura of red energy. Cloud lifted his head and flipped over Jecht's head. Jecht looked up as Cloud sailed over his sword, and brought up his other hand. With a roar, the gauntlet-covered fist slammed into Cloud's knee.
Cloud cried out, landing behind Jecht and stumbling to his knees, his hands catching his knee. He put his leg out below him and winced as his knee throbbed. With shaky breaths, Cloud climbed to his feet and turned in time to see Jecht charge towards him. The air left Cloud's lungs all at once as Jecht's fist buried itself in his stomach, doubling him over before he was flung backwards, hitting the wall of the cliff. Cloud fell forward to his knees again, clutching his stomach.
"Sorry kid," Jecht shrugged, walking up to him. Cloud breathed deep and looked up as Jecht swung his sword to rest on his shoulders. "Hey, ya did good." Cloud lowered his head and swallowed between pants.
"Who said…" he muttered, "I'm done yet!" he launched forward, swinging the Buster Sword up. Jecht jumped back a bit, and Cloud pushed himself up, holding out the Buster Sword. "If you're looking to take me out, it'll take more than that," Cloud snapped. "Let's finish this, now!" Jecht chuckled.
"You're the boss," he said. He lifted the sword and ran forward. Cloud ducked the attack and swung at Jecht's stomach. Jecht's head snapped back as the tip of the Buster Sword cut into his skin, and Cloud brought the sword back over his shoulder. With a cry of both pain and power, Cloud swung and knocked Jecht into the air and leapt after him, a blue aura appearing over the Buster Sword. He reached Jecht, leapt off his back and dove back down, cleaving the Buster Sword across Jecht's chest. Jecht landed heavily on the ground, Cloud landing in front of him a moment later.
Cloud leaned on the Buster Sword, limping slightly from Jecht's earlier blow on his knee. He winced as he stood up and turned towards Jecht. The blitzball star was on his hands and knees, breathing heavily.
"You want more?" Cloud asked weakly, hoping his bluff wouldn't be called. Jecht stood up and looked down at his torso, cut in several places by Cloud's assault. He used his bare hand to wipe off a bit of the blood and flicked it away.
"You messed up my tattoo," Jecht muttered evenly, frowning at the Zanarkand Abes logo that had been partially obscured by the slashes and blood running from them. "Right…alright kid, raincheck." Jecht stepped over to where his sword had fallen when he'd lost his grip in mid-air, grabbing its handle and brushing some dirt off it. "We'll finish this some other time."
"Sure," Cloud said. "Go back to Chaos. Tell him if you and your buddies want me taken out, you'll have to do better than that."
"Buddies?" Jecht asked, looking at Cloud out of the corner of his eye. "Really, kid? That's what you think this is about, taking you out?"
"What do you mean?" Cloud asked, lowering his sword. Jecht shook his head.
"Sure, it was about that for me personally, but hey, all of us? Heh…sorry kid, we got a bigger picture to look at…this wasn't meant to be a fight."
"Then what was it?" Cloud asked. Jecht lowered his head and shrugged.
Cloud's eyes went wide.
Another blade of white energy sliced over Onion Knight's head as he dove to the ground, the air heated where the blade had cut. He got to his feet and grimaced as Terra leered down at him.
"Terra…" he said slowly, tensing his legs, "I don't wanna hurt you…" The transformed mage snarled and flung out her hand, firing a blast of fire. Onion Knight flipped up into the air, leaping over the fireball and catching Terra by surprise. He cried out and swung his sword out, three balls of electrical energy emerging from the blade and flying towards Terra. Terra leapt up to avoid the attack, an aura of power appearing over her arms. Onion Knight looked up at her as she sailed overhead and sent another wave of white energy towards him. The wave washed over him and knocked him back to the ground. He landed and rolled backwards as Terra flew towards him.
Onion Knight lifted his head and swung his sword, glowing with white energy. Dozens of shining white swords appeared in the air surrounding Terra and launched forward. The esper stopped in the air and yowled angrily as the glowing swords fired past and through her, the magical attack leaving small scorch marks on her skin. Onion Knight jumped up as the last sword sliced past and swung her sword over his head, cutting the esper across the chest and knocking Terra to the ground. He landed and smiled, a smile that vanished as Terra climbed to her feet.
"Oh, come on," he groaned. Terra let out an angry roar and snapped out her arms again and again, sending a barrage of energy blades. Onion Knight let out a cry and began to dodge, jumping, ducking, diving and rolling under the attacks to get closer. Terra held a hand over her shoulder and snarled, flinging out her hand and firing another giant fireball. Onion Knight ran forward and spun his sword in front of him, a swarm of smaller fireballs firing out from the weapon. The larger fireball slowed and dispersed, the rest of the swarm going through the smoke in its wake and bombarding Terra. The esper was again knocked back into the air, and Onion Knight leapt after her.
Terra stopped and turned in the air as Onion Knight came towards her. His eyes went wide as Terra held out her hands in front of her. Wind whipped past his ears as a long, wide whirlwind formed below him and funneled up to consume him. Onion Knight let out a shriek as blades of wind whipped around him, the force knocking him back and forth inside the circular wall of air. He tried to find something, anything to help him, but the wind was moving too fast for him to move and there was nothing but wind nearby. His eyes drifted up to the blue moon visible at the top of the cyclone, when a glowing pink and purple form appeared in front of in. Terra zoomed down into the center of the tornado, her arms held over her torso. The arms flung out to the side, sending four blades of white energy slicing down. The energy blades cut apart the tornado and slammed into Onion Knight, sending him tumbling to the ground. The small knight hit heavily and bounced onto his stomach with a groan.
Terra floated to the ground and snapped out her hand. There was a rumbling from the ground, and a geyser of water erupted from the dirt, sending Onion Knight spinning into the air. Terra held up her other hand, and a storm of fireballs rained down in the night sky, knocking the child back down. Another movement of the hand, and a stream of fire raced along the ground to knock him back up.
"This is the most fun I've had since I died!" Kefka laughed, peering into the image of Terra that he'd manifested in the Crystal. "Come on, the water again, the water again…YES!" Kefka let out a cackle as Terra continued to knock Onion Knight around the grass, leaving no time for him to recover from one attack before the next connected. The red aura on the Crystal began to fade, and Kefka scowled.
"What? No, nonononono!" he moaned. "Ah come on, she can't be tiring, we just got started! Damn Crystal, there must be a short in this thing." Kefka snatched the object from the air and pounded his fist against it. "She's got a lot more strength left, we ain't done here yet!"
Cloud ran down the mountain path as quickly as he bruised leg would let him. He neared the bottom and stopped at the sound of someone cursing. He looked around and spied the source on a ledge a few feet higher up.
"Dammit, come on Terra!" Kefka raged, slapping the Crystal in his hands. "You've got a lot more than that, don't let Uncle Kefka down!"
"Kefka…" Cloud muttered. Kefka lifted his head at the sound of his name and looked down at Cloud. He frowned and scratched his head.
"Aren't you supposed to be fighting Kuja?" he asked.
"What are you doing to Terra?" Cloud snapped. "Leave her alone!"
"Make me!" Kefka snarled. Cloud leapt up, and Kefka flipped back into the air as the Buster Sword slammed into the mountain wall. Cloud watched as Kefka righted himself in the air and glared. "Hey, hey, I didn't mean it!" he snapped. "Vicious little brat, you blonds are always so bloodthirsty! Seems every time I meet one of your lot they're attacking me. Celes, you, Terra…"
"Leave her alone, or you'll be sorry," Cloud repeated. Kefka rolled his eyes, the Magicite shard in his hands vanishing in a flash of red.
"Fine, doesn't matter," he grumbled. "I did what I came here to do, see ya!" Kefka snapped a cocky salute and vanished in a flash of dark purple magic.
Onion Knight fell onto his back as a shard of ice slammed into his stomach. He lifted his head to see Terra coming towards him again. He let out a long, low groan and slumped back to the ground, his eyes shutting. Terra drew her hand back, and recoiled, letting out a gasp. A few jolts of magical lightning raced over her skin, with a flash, the pink aura vanished. Human again, Terra stumbled back a step, and crumbled to the ground, unconscious. Behind Onion Knight, a swirl of black energy appeared in the ground.
"This wasn't part of the plan," the Cloud of Darkness whispered, rising from the portal. "The girl's part is not complete…" she looked over at Terra, then back at Onion Knight. "So be it. She is Kefka's quarry, not mine." The two fanged tentacles at her side stretched out and clamped onto Onion Knight's shoulders. The Cloud of Darkness smirked and sank back into the portal, the tentacles dragging Onion Knight along the ground and into the portal behind her.
Cloud rounded the mountain path and squinted in the evening light at the distant campfire. He let out a cry and ran forward, skidding to a halt in front of Terra's limp form.
"Terra?" he said, turning her over. Terra didn't respond. Cloud looked back at the mountain, then back at Terra. His eyes narrowed, and he reached down to pick up a stray lock of Terra's hair. "What the…?"
A dark portal opened, and Kefka emerged with a snarl of rage into the main hall of the Chaos Shrine. He gnashed his teeth and glared at the ground, then looked up. Golbez, Sephiroth and Mateus were staring at him.
"Take a picture!" Kefka snapped. "What the hell happened, Blondie attacked me! Wasn't Kuja supposed to handle him?"
"I don't quite recall, exactly. Let's ask him," Golbez said, turning his head. "How did that go, Kuja?" Kefka followed Golbez's gaze to see Kuja sitting on the ledge above the floor of the shrine, his head low. Upon hearing his name, the Genome's eyes darted up to glare at Kefka.
"So what happened?" Kefka asked. Kuja lifted his head and turned to Kefka, revealing a large bruise on the side of his face. "So the guy did a number on you huh? Wimp."
"This isn't Cloud's doing, you ignorant wretch," Kuja growled, leaping to the floor. "I was blindsided, by Jecht!"
"It appears that he somehow caught wind of our plan," Sephiroth said. "He attacked Kuja and engaged Cloud himself. He lost, however, and considering the short span of time it took him to lose, that would be my guess as to how it was Cloud found you."
"If it's of any consolation to you, Kuja," Golbez said, "I saw Jecht when he returned. He caught the worst end of all the involved parties in this scheme. He'll be nursing wounds on his chest for days."
"Actually, that does make me feel better," Kuja muttered bitterly.
"There will be time for petty complaints and trivialities later," Mateus announced. "For now, tell me the results. Given that so many of you put your effort into it, I'm certain that at least some aspects of this plan were successful. What became of Cloud without Kuja to delay him?"
"From what he described, Jecht managed to hurt Cloud but it wasn't too serious," Sephiroth said. "Though he was weakened, he was still too strong to attempt to take control of and risk exposing my manipulations. I'll have to wait for another time."
"And you, Kefka?" Mateus asked. "I'll assume, given your current mood, that your scheme didn't go the way you'd planned either."
"No, blondie saw me and attacked me," Kefka grumbled. "I had to run off and he broke my concentration. I didn't get the chance to make Terra attack him, she changed back once I was interrupted. I guess the little runt was tougher than we thought, he tired her out too much for her to sustain the transformation without me pushing her."
"Surely something in this plan went right," Mateus growled, reaching up to rub his forehead. "Someone tell me the fate of the Onion Knight and let it be one I'll be happy to hear."
"The Cloud of Darkness succeeded in kidnapping the child once Terra had defeated him," Golbez said. "That's something."
"Kidnapping is not the same as dispatching, given the choice between the two I'd choose the latter," Mateus sighed, shaking his head. "A three pronged plan and due to the intervention of a single blitzball player, two of those prongs were ruined. Can't you imbeciles do anything right?"
"Remind us then, Mateus, what great schemes you've hatched lately," Kuja snapped, glaring at the emperor. "I'd be amazed you could find time to make plans of your own, since you're always so busy watching and mocking ours. I'm in a rather foul mood as of late and don't feel like listening to your mindless prattle." Mateus sniffed and crossed his arms, trapping his fingers on his staff.
"My schemes are made with a greater purpose in mind, I plot for the long-term and not the short. Any plans of mine are of a far higher mind than you lot could understand and so I won't bore you by attempting to explain them," he replied.
"Stand around, make speeches and bitch at people?" Kefka thought aloud, tapping his chin. "I think I understand that. What is with you 'emperors' that you like to talk about doing things more than you like to actually do them? Must be a part of the package when you take the title or something." Mateus scowled and vanished in a crackle of dark energy. "Was it something I said?" Kefka's shoulders slumped.
"Even the most deceitful lies cannot infuriate a man so much as bitter truths," Golbez recited. "It doesn't matter, the point is the plan was a partial success. Now the two of you can focus on Cloud and Terra without worrying about peripheral distractions."
"Indeed," Sephiroth said. "The only distraction I need to worry about now is Terra herself."
"You think Terra's a distraction? Get your mind outta the gutter," Kefka muttered. Sephiroth turned his eyes towards him. "Alright, yeah yeah," Kefka walked up to Sephiroth and cocked an eyebrow. "Same here, so let's make a little deal, 'kay? You keep Cloud out of my way, and I'll keep Terra out of yours. Deal?" Kefka stuck out his hand, and Sephiroth looked down at it. Actually touching Kefka's hand seemed like an invitation to disaster. Still, the mage had just confronted and absolved one of his key concerns over Cloud…
"Agreed," Sephiroth nodded, shaking Kefka's hand. Kefka grinned, and Sephiroth let out a grunt at the small jolt of electricity that shot up his arm. He pulled his arm back, and Kefka held up his hands and feigned innocence.
"Sorry, that happens sometimes," he said. Sephiroth let out a small growl. From the side, Golbez watched the interaction with mild amusement. He had wholeheartedly meant it when he had told Sephiroth to work with Kefka. Kefka would likely spend so much time irritating Sephiroth, and Sephiroth would spend as much time being irritated, that the two of them working together would do just as much harm as good. Golbez had no problems with the two of them controlling Terra and Cloud. So long as their plans didn't reach fruition before his did. Terra and Cloud still had their parts to play in that.
His earlier gamble with Jecht had paid off, Jecht had stopped Sephiroth and Kefka's plan from being a total success. The child was gone, that was unfortunate, but Golbez had already anticipated that. It was a bothersome loss, but one he could handle. In the meantime, he had other parts of the plan to oversee now that the threat posed by his so-called allies was gone. Terra and Cloud weren't the only ones he needed to achieve the goal he desired. And, the child was likely weakened and scared following his abduction, he'd need someone to talk to…if Golbez played this next hand right, he could convince the child he was an ally. Not a complete lie, but not a complete truth either. He'd just have to make it look as though it were the latter. Golbez gave Sephiroth and Kefka one more glance, and content that they were too busy talking to notice, he vanished in a crackle of dark energy.
Terra murmured slightly, the smell of something burning catching her nose. She opened her eyes and quickly shut them at the glaring sight of a bright campfire. Her head was pounding with the typical rhythm of a horrid migraine, and she wondered what had happened that she had fallen asleep. Terra lifted a hand to shield her eyes from the light of the flames and squinted them open to look around. It was night, that was to be expected, and the only light besides the fire came from the twin blue and red moons in the sky. The moons were rather inconsistent like most other things in this world, sometimes there would be only one, sometimes two. Terra wouldn't be entirely surprised to see a third in the sky one evening.
"You're awake," Cloud said, turning at the sound of Terra sitting up. Terra turned her head to look up at him. The ex-mercenary was barely visible, standing just outside the ring of light provided by the fire, his dark clothing blending perfectly with the dark outline of the trees not too far away. "How do you feel?"
"Like a herd of Chocobos just stampeded over my head," Terra muttered, laying back down on her back and closing her eyes. "What happened? The last thing I remember, you'd gone off to look for food and…"
"You don't remember?" Cloud asked. Terra shook her head. "Well, that's a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping you could explain a few things."
"Well, Onion Knight is gone, I came back from the mountain to find you unconscious, and…your hair." Terra's eyes widened slightly, and she sat up again. No, it couldn't be…
"My hair?" she whispered. Cloud nodded, and Terra lifted a hand to her head, pulling a few loose strands out so she could see them.
Her normally pale blond hair had turned deep green.
"How'd that happen?" Cloud asked, kneeling beside her. Terra's chin quivered slightly as she stared transfixed at her own hair.
"The esper is safe, the Empire didn't make it up the bluff," Edgar let out a breath as the assembled group beheld the frozen creature the Narshe guards had moved to the top of the mountain away from the village. Mere minutes ago, Kefka had led a legion of Imperial soldiers against the peaceful mining community. Fortunately, due to the efforts of the Returners and the Narshe guards, civilian causalities had been minimal. Kefka's thirst for the esper had taken him straight through the village to the mountain, and the few Imperials left behind to oversee the civilians had been dispatched. It had been the Returners' assignment to make sure that Kefka and the Empire didn't reach the esper.
The group was tired, a bit dirty, they'd been injured during the fighting but Celes and Terra had seen to the wounds before they became a problem. But this couldn't wait, the fate of the war could hinge on what happened here now. More than that…Terra didn't want to wait. She stared at the frozen creature, a mixture of excitement, fear and awe pumping through her veins. The last time she had encountered this creature, or so she'd been told, the Imperial guards with her had been destroyed and the Slave Crown on her head had been short-circuited. She didn't want to imagine what a second encounter could do, but fortunately she didn't have to. She would find out herself.
"Frozen after a thousand years, whole…" Cyan thought aloud, lowering his head. "Could it be alive, still?"
"Impossible, after all that time," Sabin replied. Ignoring them, Terra lifted her foot and took a step closer to the esper.
"Well, maybe we can unthaw it," Locke said. "Terra, you can conjure fire, can you melt the ice?" the treasure hunter turned to the woman that was slowly stepping closer to the esper, and stepped in front of her. "Terra? What is it?" Locke asked. Terra's eyes were glazed over, and as Locke stepped in front of her, her eyes snapped to focus and glared at him. Locke blinked, and cried out as he was hurled to the side, slamming into Celes and knocking the former general to the ground.
"T…Terra?" Celes asked, looking up at the young woman. Terra turned blank eyes to Celes.
"You can feel it too, can't you…" Terra whispered. "The power…raw magical energy…like a geyser…"
"Terra…" Celes gasped as the prison of ice surrounding the esper lit up, glowing in a soft blue light. Terra's eyes closed and her head tilted back slightly as her skin took on a similar glow, hers a light pink. She turned away and resumed her slow walk to the esper. Cyan and Sabin came up on either side of Terra, and Edgar moved in front of her.
"Terra, you need to back away from the esper," Edgar said.
"Terra, something's happening, you need to stay away."
"No!" Terra's eyes snapped open, and there was a burst of red light around Terra. The three men were hurtled away to the edge of the cliff. The group watched as a glowing red aura appeared over Terra as she stepped up to the esper.
"The esper…" Celes said, watching with wide eyes. Terra tilted her head and reached out a hand, lightning shooting out from the ice and crackling along her skin as she touched the esper's prison. Not long after, lightning began to spark back from Terra as well. "They're reacting to each other…" Terra's lips drifted open slightly, and she brought her other hand up to the ice.
"This feeling…" she whispered, lifting her eyes to look up at the esper's head. Bright blue eyes locked with dead black ones, and Terra's nails began to dig into the ice. "You…you know, don't you? What I am…" the aura of energy around Terra turned a deeper shade of red, and the aura of the esper became a brighter blue in response. Terra's ponytail came loose from its binding, her blond hair fluttering in the air behind her. The wind whistling over the cliff hastened, blowing the folds of Terra's clothing to the side. "Tell me…who am I?" she asked. "Who!
More magical lightning raced along Terra's arms, and the esper's glow began to pulse in response. Terra let go of the ice and her eyes drifted shut again as she was lifted into the air, hovering a foot off the ground. The magical energy began to flow stronger, the aura around her grew darker, and all the while Terra was silent, her hands held out to the sides. Lightning shot through her body, and her hair danced along her back and neck. Like a wave from root to tip, the light blond curls turned deep green. Terra's nails turned blue, her skin turned pink, and her hair elongated, changing color again to bright purple. The transformation complete, Terra's head snapped back and she let out a feral screech before flying into the twilit sky.
"I…I transformed again…" Terra thought, staring at her now-green hair in horror. When she had awoken in Zozo in her familiar, fully human body, she had asked how and when the change happened. The when had come from her friends, who told her it happened when she had transformed on the cliff. The how came from Maduin, he'd explained that the color was derived from his own hair. With her powers fully awakened and her Esper no longer dormant, Madeline's light blond had turned to a deeper shade of Maduin's green.
Terra eventually got used to the change, though it still caused problems. Green hair was not the most inconspicuous trait to possess. It had first happened when they returned to Narshe, and would repeat several times whenever they'd enter a village to search for information. The people would cast her nervous glances as she walked by, she'd see them whisper to each other, and more than a few children abandoned such "polite" behavior to outright gawk at her. It was then that she had begun to develop her fondness for children – the younger ones would outright ask her how she got her hair color, and thought it looked pretty. The adults would just whisper and stare and if she came close to them they'd deliberately avoid speaking to her. The children were much more direct with their curiosities and didn't make Terra feel like such an outcast.
When the power of magic had vanished, Terra's hair had turned back to the light blond curls she remembered. The pulse of magic in her hands she'd felt her entire life faded, and it was then Terra realized that she had been granted her silent wish for a normal life. She didn't have to fight, didn't need to bear the curse of her Esper anymore. She had stepped to the bow of the Falcon and let her ponytail lose, doing nothing more than enjoying the feeling of the wind on her ears and in her hair.
When the cataclysm had occurred, Cosmos had told Terra about the dangers she was about to face, and gave her a choice to fight with naught but her own strength, or to accept Cosmos' assistance and let the goddess bent the fabric of reality and give Terra back her magic. Terra had known what dangers would come with it, but she had shouldered the burden of her Esper for the sake of the world once, she would shoulder it again. And she had, and a handful of times she had transformed when she lost control, but not to the extent her hair changed. Now, this…
"If it changed to green again, then…this change must have been more extreme…" The fingers holding the hair curled into a fist. "Kefka…I sensed him before I…he did this…he forced me to…to…" Terra clenched her eyes shut. "Onion Knight…did I…I…" Even in her mind, Terra couldn't finish the question. She had transformed countless times during the war with the Empire and Kefka, sometimes it was voluntary, sometimes not. And though she occasionally hurt someone, she was eternally grateful the Esper had refrained from killing anything beyond monsters. But now…
"So, what's up with that?" Cloud asked, still kneeling beside her. Terra turned to him. Cloud, he didn't know. He didn't know about her Esper, the transformations, that the green hair signaled now as it had before, that Terra's control had slipped and she may have done something unspeakable. He didn't know what kind of monster lurked in the back of her mind…he wouldn't, he couldn't know. She couldn't possibly tell him and except him to understand her burden, to understand her. No, Cloud…he had to remain ignorant about the truth, and if things went well he'd never need to know it. It was better that way.
"It's a side-effect of my power…" Terra whispered. "My father had green hair, when my power acts up, it can change color. Kefka, our world's Crystal…he can use it to aggravate my power."
"And Onion Knight? Where did he go?"
"I don't know."
Terra lowered her eyes as Cloud stood up and crossed to the other side of the fire.
"I know you're lying."
Terra's eyes went wide, and she whirled her head to stare at Cloud's back.
"I know there's something you're not telling me…I don't know what it is, but I know it's there. I know we haven't known each other long, so I don't expect you to tell me your life story and all your little secrets, hell, I haven't told you mine. But I figure, whatever it is, it must mean something awful to you, for that hair color to make you so emotional." Cloud turned around. "But, Terra, you can trust me. Whatever it is you're keeping secret, you can tell me." Terra held his gaze, and nodded after a moment.
"You're right," she said softly, "there is something I'm not telling you. But you just said it yourself, there's things you aren't telling me either. So how about we keep our secrets and share them when we're ready and not before, okay?"
"Fair enough," Cloud nodded. "It's late, I think, and we don't know how long the night will last. I think we should sleep and take watch in shifts, it'll let us both get some sleep and I think we both need it."
"Alright," Terra replied. "You've been watching over me, you get some sleep, I'll watch."
"Right." Cloud laid back on the ground and removed the leather strap for the Buster Sword's holder, and curled his hands up under the side of his head. He'd slept in far worse conditions in his life, it wasn't comfortable but it would do. He turned away from the fire and watched the ground, the grass dancing with the shadows cast by his profile from the fire behind him.
Terra waited until Cloud's breathing evened out, and he didn't move even when she purposely tripped and let out a small cry. She stood and walked away from the fire into the nearby woods. She didn't want to go far, just far enough so he wouldn't wake up. She got what she felt was a safe distance, turned to the nearest tree and slumped forward against it, leaning her head on her forearm.
And then she let the tears fall.
Terra had to be strong, and appear to be strong, she was used to that. Her friends thought she was the key to ending the war, and then the world had ripped itself apart and the Mobliz orphans had looked up to her as a surrogate mother. So Terra was used to appearing strong for the benefit of others. People needed strong leaders to follow, to look to for help. Terra was strong, she knew that perfectly well, she'd have never survived what she had if she didn't. But she still felt weakness, and even during the war she needed moments and places like this now and then. Moments when she could indulge herself with weakness, in places no one could see her do it.
Terra let go and cried. She cried for the loss of control she had experienced again and again and again her entire life. She cried for being forced to fight a war she didn't want with powers she didn't want. And most of all, she cried for the death of her friend and comrade, and for the thought that another could join him if she lost control again. Her cheeks pink and her eyes red, Terra turned from the tree and slid to the ground, her head falling back against the bark. Oh yes, and she cried for her hair. Aesthetics aside, the green color was a physical incarnation of the mental and magical burden she carried with her. She didn't need another reminder of that.
"Tears are unbecoming of a Warrior of Cosmos."
Terra's eyes went wide and she jumped to her feet, looking for the sound of the deep voice. It was dark though, the tree cover blocked the light of the moons and the thick foliage hid any sign of who or what was there.
"Some might say tears are more suiting of woman than man. I say tears are more suiting of the weak than the strong, and you, Terra Madeline Branford, are not weak. So I must ask, how is it I find you here crying?" the deep, slightly echoing voice continued. Terra continued to scan the trees for the sound of the voice. Alone, unable to see, she was a perfect target. "If you're expecting an attack, you can be at ease. If I'd come here seeking conflict you'd know it by now," the voice said as if reading her mind. Terra swallowed and stopped looking, her tears drying on her cheeks.
"Alright…you don't want to hurt me," she said. "If you're not hostile, then tell me who you are."
"That's not what I meant and you know it. What's your name?"
"It doesn't work that way, girl," the voice scolded. "I answered one of your questions, now you will answer one of mine. Why do you cry?" Terra let out a shaky breath.
"Because…I killed him…" she whispered. "I killed one of my friends…I lost control, and…" Terra didn't finish.
"Ah, you mean your attack against the Onion Knight," the voice said. "You're quite mistaken girl. The child lives."
"What?" Terra gasped and stepped forward, looking for the voice again. "You're certain?"
"Quite, I saw him not an hour ago. He's a bit hurt and tired, but that is to be expected."
"Is he safe?"
"It depends on your definition of safe. He's alive, as I said, but he is held in enemy territory. When you were done weakening him, the Cloud of Darkness appeared and abducted him. But he still believes, he hopes to escape, he wishes to fight the villains who have taken him. And…he worries for you. He's concerned if he hurt you, and if you were able to change back to avoid hurting Cloud."
"So like him…" Terra whispered, lowering her head. So she hadn't killed him, he had survived. Weak, alone and kidnapped, but alive. The weight on her heart lightened, and she let out a small chuckle of happiness. She could find him, then, help him, save him. "I have to rescue him," she said to the voice aloud. "It was my fault he was taken, I'll find a way to free him!"
"I had hoped you would say such," the voice laughed deeply. "That is good, then. Feelings of weakness are best alleviated with feelings of courage and a goal to pursue with them. You now have found the former anew, so I will grant you the latter. Go to the north, after several days you will find a city, or what is left of one. From there, I will help no further, the direction will be decided on your own judgment."
"Thank you…" Terra nodded. "Who are you?"
"I already told you." There was a metallic clank, and Terra turned her head to see one lump of darkened shadows move away through the trees. "I am a friend." Terra moved towards the shadow, but after another step the figure vanished in a flash of dark magic, and the shadows left in their wake left no trace of their presence.
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