Story: Final Fantasy VI: What The Heart Remembers (all chapters)

Authors: YuriFanGirl

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Chapter 1

Title: Chapter 1: Before The Fantasy

[Author's notes:

A story fifteen years in the making...

FF6 - 1


What The Heart Remembers

Chapter One


A product of genetic engineering and Magitek Infusion, a battle hardened warrior with a soul as pure as snow.  None have ever known the woman beneath the icy mask she wears...

Celes Chère



Before the fantasy...


    "What the hell do you mean, 'take care of her', I'm a general for god's sake!  Find a scullery maid to watch her if she can't care for herself!" I shouted at the man I respected less than any other and my predecessor in the Magitek Infusion process.  Kefka Palazzo simply threw his head back and laughed, a high pitched cackle that sent chills down my spine.  The Infusion process had been incomplete when it was tested on him, shattering his sanity and twisting him into the insane freak he was today – or so the stories said.  I, for one, was certain the man was rotten to the core from birth.

    “How sweet, you speak as though you actually have a say in the matter,” he said, stepping so close that I could smell his rotten breath.  “This is an order from the Emperor himself, witch!  You'll either obey or find yourself at the mercy of my more... invasive experiments...” he murmured, licking his lips and grinning.

    My stomach turned at both his words and the sight of bits and pieces of bloody meat in his teeth, remnants of whatever poor creature he'd devoured during his last meal.  One hand went to my sword, the other clenched around the icy sphere of a forming -Blizzard- spell.  The man clucked his tongue and shook his head, but nevertheless took a few steps back and snapped his fingers.  The room was suddenly filled with the sounds of clanking metal as two heavily armed guards entered, dragging between them a limp and bloodied form which they all but hurled onto the floor.

    “Why me?” I asked, averting my eyes from the crumpled form in order to keep my anger at bay.  I was certainly no friend to the heartless puppet, but I could not bear the sight of a brutalized woman and I couldn't risk losing control and attacking Kefka... no matter how warranted the idea was.

    “Why do you think, witch?  There's no better place for a freak of magic then next to someone whose body laps up energy like a behemoth near a blood pool.”  I gritted my teeth and willed the icy power to fade.  They had placed her in my custody several times before, mostly for one or two days at a time.  Nothing had ever come of those visits, she merely sat there with that blank, expressionless face of hers, moving only to use the bathroom before returning to her seat.  It was... unnerving to say the least.

    “For how long?”  I asked, simply wanting the man out of my presence as quickly as possible.  Kefka sneered.

    “Until you're needed elsewhere... and with myself heading up the new special project and 'golden boy' Leo leading the army I just don't see the Emperor needing you any time soon.  Consider it a leave of duty if you wish, I find you much more fitting in the role of nursemaid anyhow,” he said, throwing his head back for another cackle.  I bristled at the insult, barely holding onto my restraint.

    “Get out,” I breathed, the barely audible words holding enough weight to give even the madman pause.  His twisted mirth faded into a glare as he snapped his fingers once more, causing a third soldier to enter the room carrying a small pillow with a circlet resting on top of it.  I recognized it immediately for it normally sat mere inches above the empty eyes of the girl that lay bleeding on my floor.  I flicked my eyes to the girl's battered face to see that it was indeed the circlet she normally wore resting on the pillow.

    “If she happens to prove too much for you simply fit her with this Slave Crown to force her obedience.”

    “Slave Crown?”  The man grinned and licked his tongue across his teeth.

    “You didn't know?  Well, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised... it isn't necessary to keep the peons informed.”  I cast him an icy glare that only caused his grin to grow even wider, making his face appear stretched and even more horrifying than usual.  “Oh very well, since you may need to use it I may as well tell you.  The Slave Crown is a device I ingeniously created that allows me to control the will and desire of the wearer.  With normal human trash it would merely grant me a mindless slave but I have plenty enough of those!” he said, gesturing at the soldiers behind him.  All three of the men shifted uneasily where they stood.  “No, it's true usefulness lies in the freak of nature that lies at my feet!  Limitless magical power at my beck and call!  It's positively glorious!” he shouted, throwing his head back for another trademark cackle.

    “You mean it was... everything she's done has been your doing?  You've been controlling her...”  I was too stunned at the moment for even my anger to register properly.  The mere idea of being forced to act against your will, to do the bidding of some demented madman while you beat your fists against the wall of your own mind was too horrifying to imagine.

    “Yes, and I'd permanently affix it to her skull if the Emperor didn't fear it causing irreparable damage,” the man growled, glaring down at the quivering girl.  “The little freak started showing some... adverse side effects, even temporarily slipped from my control.  That's why she had to be punished,” he whispered, a deep seeded rage burning behind his eyes.  I would not wish the horrors he likely inflicted on her for disobeying his wishes on anyone in the world... save for Kefka himself.  “That's also why she's being left to you so that we need not worry about her burning Vector to the ground while her mind recovers.”  The man turned away with a flamboyant sweep of his cape.  “I'll return when I have need of her, make sure that she's in suitable condition when I do,” he called out over his shoulder.  I could feel my body tense as the aura of icy wind surrounded me, begging to be released onto the twisted clown freak and his cohorts.

    “Kefka...” I murmured at the departing figure.  He paused, but did not turn to face me.  “If you ever set foot in my quarters again, I will kill you,” I said with chilling malice in my quiet voice.  The soldiers at his side trembled of both cold and fear, but Kefka merely waved a hand in dismissal as he strode from the room.  The guards all too eagerly followed him out and closed the door behind them, leaving me alone with my new charge and many... many unanswered questions...

    'How dare that bastard strip someone of their own will?!  Unforgivable!' I raged within my mind.  'How can the Emperor allow such a man so much freedom... surely he must have known what Kefka was doing... no!  I can't believe that he would allow such horrors to be committed.  I'll simply have to inform him of Kefka's actions once he returns, surely such a betrayal will warrant an execution and the world will be rid of that monster once and for all!'  With plans for dealing with Kefka firmly in mind I was left to ponder the other part of this situation.  'What am I supposed to do with her?  Am I supposed to mentor her? Befriend her?  Take her shopping for pretty new dresses and spoil her rotten?'  The darker part of my mind suspected I was to continue the train of abuse but I shook the thoughts away before my mind settled on another possibility.  'Or... am I simply a battery to absorb her rampant power as Kefka said...'

    I allowed the depressing thoughts to drift away and reached out to test the bathwater I'd drawn and found it suitable.  With a heavy sigh I returned to the entranceway where she still lay in the place she had been thrown, now curled into a little ball.

    “I've drawn you a bath.  If you're to be staying with me you'll need to clean yourself up.”  Other than a mild shiver the girl gave no response.  I crouched down and nudged her shoulder, causing her to flinch and pull away the instant my fingertips brushed her skin.  Even at that brief contact my Runic powers were alight with the overflow of power that radiated from the woman.  The reaction from the first contact with another's magical energies was always heightened but I had never in my life felt anything like this.  My knees buckled as every nerve in my body ran rampant with the sudden influx of power, tightening and loosening in a mad dance of spasms that sent white hot rivulets of both pain and pleasure through the very core of my being.  My vision began to narrow, dimming as the overwhelming sensations ravaged my body and in that moment I feared I would not survive the absorption.  I don't know how long it continued but eventually the magical energy ran its course and allowed me to collapse to the floor in a heap.

    I found myself gazing into a pair of luminous green eyes, rimmed with tears and trembling with fear and remorse so deep that it pained my heart to witness it.  These weren't the same eyes I had seen on the hardened Magitek witch that had brutally slaughtered fifty men in a fiery torrent.  Those eyes had been a lie, a mask forced on her by the twisted desires of madman.  These weren't even the eyes of a soldier of any kind... but rather those of a frightened young girl that was a slave to powers she didn't fully understand.  They were the same eyes as my own when nobody was around to see them...

    “...fifty of the Empire's finest in an instant!  Oh you should have been there to hear the screams!”

    “Many of my troops were in that regiment!  Who authorized this pointless slaughter?!”

    “Pointless?  Silly girl, the Emperor asked me to test her abilities and so I did.  They should be proud to have died doing the Empire so great a service, isn't that how 'honor bound' twits like you and Leo justify the death you cause?”

    “You're twisted, Kefka!  You and your little freak puppet!”

    I awoke with a start, memories of the clown's maniacal grin still haunting the back of my mind.  I found myself in the same position I had fallen in, staring across a short distance into the girl's sad green eyes.  I had been horrified by the expressionless girl at Kefka's side as he boasted about what she had done... horrified and furious as many of the soldiers she had slaughtered were men I had fought side by side with and respected greatly.  A burning pool of anger settled in my stomach as I realized Kefka was entirely to blame for this girl's sins and the deaths of my comrades.  I hadn't thought it possible but I managed to despise the man even more than I already did.  I would make him pay for what he'd done if it was the last thing I ever did...

    “Are you okay?” I asked, finding my throat tingly in the aftermath of my Runic overload.  The girl winced and shut her eyes tight.  I sighed as I pushed myself up into a kneeling position and scooted closer to the frightened girl.  “I'm... sorry if I frightened you,” I said awkwardly.

    Growing up in male dominated Vector and working my way through the ranks of the military had hardened me in many ways.  I really didn't have much experience dealing with women outside of a few sparse conversations with maids and waitresses.  In truth I found other women to be remarkably intriguing due to my limited contact with them, an experience I likened to stepping out of an armory and into meadow.  For a moment my mind wandered to Cid's greenhouse where I would tend the roses, a reminder of my own heavily masked femininity, but I chased the thoughts away.  I had more important matters to concern myself with, the first of which was getting her cleaned up and treating her wounds.

    “I don't know if you remember me but my name is Celes Chère, I'm a General for the Empire.”  At the mention of my rank she shrank inwardly so I quickly corrected.  “But don't worry, I'm nothing like that bastard, Kefka!  I'll make him pay for mistreating you someday...” I murmured, realizing how hollow my words probably sounded to her.  Fortunately they seemed to reassure her somewhat as a little of the tension drained from her body and her eyes fluttered open to regard me curiously.  “I swear to you now, on my honor and my life, that I will never mistreat you...”  I paused.  In a rare moment of absent mindedness I realized I couldn't quite recall the girl's name.  She was so often referred to as 'witch', 'freak', or some other nickname that I'd only actually ever heard her real name once and that had been over a year ago.  All I could remember was that it started with a T so I took a wild guess.  “...Tina.”  Confusion filled her eyes at first but eventually they softened and her cracked and swollen lips parted to utter a single word...

 A mysterious young woman, born with the gift of magic, and enslaved by the Gestahlian Empire...

    “Terra,” she whispered.  My cheeks filled with color at my mistake.

    “Sorry...” I murmured sheepishly.  “Terra...”  The name had such an exotic ring to it that I found myself repeating it over and over in my head.  “As I promised, Terra, you're safe with me.”  I took a moment to give her injuries a closer look and while most of the damage was superficial some of the deeper cuts could become serious if not treated quickly.  “I'd like to clean and treat your wounds if you'll allow me?” I asked, offering my hand to her.  She regarded the hand nervously for a long moment before tentatively reaching out her own, only to pause just before placing it in mine and snatch it back to her chest.  “It's okay, I'm not going to...”  She shook her head.

    “Hurt you...” she whispered.  My eyes widened in surprise, she was actually worried about hurting me.  By all rights this girl should despise the Empire and everyone in it after how she'd been treated... but even in her current state she was concerned for my safety.  My resolve to care for her strengthened ten fold and I offered her a small smile.

     “I guess I should explain that,” I said, rubbing at the back of my neck awkwardly as I tried to put the words together.  “I have an ability called Runic that allows me to absorb  a person’s magical energy.  The first time I come into contact with someone's power it can be a little... difficult to manage.  You don't have to worry about it happening again,” I said, offering her the hand once more.  Tentatively, she reached out and placed her hand in mine.  It felt as though a torch had been lit inside the pit of my stomach the moment we touched.  Terra's power must be truly incredible for sustained contact to elicit such a response from my body.  “See?” I said with a little smile as I stood and pulled her as gently as possible to her feet.  The moment I let go of her hand she started to collapse forcing me to quickly catch her about the waist.  “Can you not stand?”  She lowered her eyes and shook her head.  “It's okay,” I said, sweeping my other arm behind her legs and lifting her easily.  She let out a pained whimper at the sudden action but thankfully didn't try to resist.

     'She's so light... she can't be more than eighty pounds...' I thought, a pain settling in my chest at the poor girl's suffering.

    “Like snow...” I heard her whisper.  I looked down to see her resting her cheek against the hair that had fallen over my shoulder.  I cradled her gently to me as I made my way to the bath, my desire to protect her building ever more with every passing moment...

    I'd had to bite my tongue to spare her my outrage as I helped her to remove her clothing... never in my life had I seen someone so battered.  She was emaciated to the extent that I was certain she hadn't eaten a proper meal in weeks and other than the slash wounds, some of which were quite deep and likely to become infected if left alone, nearly every part of her body was heavily bruised and I was certain at least three of her ribs were broken.  The only relief to be found was that her breasts and womanhood seemed to have been spared the torment the rest of her body had suffered... I was truly grateful the Emperor's order that she wasn't to be 'touched' had at least extended that far.  The cruelty I saw before me ignited the ember of hatred in my belly into a blazing inferno.  The next time I saw Kefka's twisted face I would put my sword through it without hesitation.

    “Ngh!” she whimpered, shaking me from my murderous thoughts to realize that in my anger I had pressed down too firmly with the washcloth.

     “Sorry!” I winced, pulling away the cloth to dab it with more cleansing oil.  “I wish there was an easier way to do this but I have to clean out the cuts before I  heal them.”  She gritted her teeth and nodded, sending teardrops rolling down her cheeks.  “Just a few more...” I said in hopes of comforting her as I lowered her leg back into the water and shifted around the tub so I was behind her.  “Lean forward please...” I murmured uneasily, knowing that the worst was yet to come for the poor girl.  I'd seen enough lash marks to know she had been laid into with a barbed whip, leaving the flesh of her back lined and dotted with gaping wounds.  Realizing how badly the oil would burn I retrieved a clean cloth and folded it over a few times and held it in front of her.  “This is going to hurt... you should bite down on this,” I whispered, not trusting my voice to carry the strength it would need to reassure her.

    She did as she was told and sank her teeth into it, her eyes fearful as they looked up into mine.  I bit my lip and offered her my free hand which she took in both of hers.  Not wanting to extend the pain any more than I had to I placed the cloth flat on her back and swiped it across all the wounds with two deft strokes.  Her reaction was immediate and heartbreaking.  Eyes wide, she screamed into the cloth like death itself was upon her and crushed my hand in a vice grip as her whole body spasmed with shock and pain.  Fearing that she would agitate the wounds I pressed my cheek against her neck and brought the hand she held up to her shoulder in a makeshift embrace.  The oil sizzled within the infected wounds, slowly purging it from her body in the form of a filmy white discharge.  I held her tightly as she screamed and screamed until all her breath was gone and she was left trembling in my arms.  With a nearby pitcher I gathered clean water and rinsed the tortured flesh before applying the cloth again, this time in a gentle massage to ease the pain.  Eventually the sobbing girl released her grip on my hands and allowed the cloth to fall from her mouth to take in a few ragged gasps of air.

    “No more...” she whimpered, burying her face in her hands.

    “It's almost over, I promise,” I said, barely managing to choke out the words as I finished cleaning and rinsing the last of her wounds.  I drained the water from the bathtub and gently eased her down onto her back.  “This might feel a little strange at first...”  I tried to smile down at her as I placed my hand flat on her belly, feeling the static tingle of her energies against my palm.  I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths to focus on the spell I needed, which took some time as I usually favored ice magic over all else.  After a minute or so of searching, the warm glow appeared in the pit of my stomach and began it's journey up into my arm and down into my hand.

    “-Cure-...” I whispered, sending the gathered magic  flowing into her body.  She jerked against my hand reflexively at the sudden surge of warmth but settled once the healing energies started to work on her injuries.  I opened my eyes to see the bruised and torn flesh on her abdomen slowly knit together and recover, leaving only a few slightly off color patches on Terra's pale skin that would likely fade in a few days.  The magic would do little to prevent her soreness and wouldn't have done anything at all against the infection, but it would mend the broken bones and the worst of her injuries and allow her to recover the rest of the way on her own.  It took three full minutes for the spell to run it's course, several times longer than any I'd ever cast before, and completely drained me of my magical reserves.

     'I would do it again a thousand times over,' I reasoned with myself as I looked over Terra's body.  What had once been a nightmare was now only an upsetting dream with the worst of the injuries healed.  She was still much too thin and would likely feel stiff and uncomfortable for a while but those things would be taken care of with time.  I may have been exhausted and emotionally rattled more than I could ever recall being... but I had never felt more content with myself as I did then.

    “Thank... you...” she murmured, eyelids slowly drooping closed as she drifted off to sleep.  I smiled down at her and reached out to brush a few strands of wet hair from her face, only to pause at the unfamiliar action.

     'Is this what a normal woman would do?'  I held the hand in front of my face to look at it curiously for a moment before returning my gaze to the slumbering girl.  'I wonder if you're the same as me?  Always wondering just how different you really are...'  I allowed the familiar thoughts and worries to run their course as I dried off the sleeping girl and wearily carried her to my bedroom to dress her in one of my nightgowns.  It was an embarrassing process and I reminded myself of the need to apologize for invading her privacy by touching her so.  When I was assured that she was as comfortable as I could make her I collapsed gratefully into my chair for some much needed rest.  Unfortunately not ten seconds had passed before there was an urgent knock on my door.  I looked at the clock to note the late hour and groaned as I rose to my feet, cautiously looking over the slumbering Terra before shuffling out of the room.  I vowed icy vengeance on the person if they were here on some fools errand.  Thankfully it had been several months since a soldier hopeful to worm his way into my bed had come calling; no other had tried after the last one was sent off with a frozen hand and a promise that his genitals would be next.

    “What the hell do you...”  My voice trailed off as I found nobody on the receiving end of the death glare I was casting.  Confused, I stepped out into the hall to look down the corridors, catching sight of a blurred figure making it's way around the corridor.  I could have sworn I had seen dark skin and a blond mohawk but discarded the idea as a trick of my tired mind.  Only one man I'd ever seen fit that description and he was the last person in the world that would be so rude as to flee after knocking on someone's door at this hour.  As I was about to return to my chambers I felt my foot brush against something on the floor and looked down to find myself staring at the last thing I had ever expected to find sitting in the palace hallways.  Staring up at me with beady black eyes was a squat little moogle plushie.  “What the...”


To be continued...

[End notes:

You have no idea how wonderful it feels to finally put out a piece of this story.  It's grown and changed and expanded so many times over in my mind over the last fifteen years and I truly believe this represents the perfect culmination of those ideas.

For the fans of the game I hope you can appreciate the methods I use to incorporate my  ideas into the storyline.  I'll be taking advantage of pretty much every gap of time or information that the game provides and only subtly altering a few details, mostly in that of downplaying Locke by making Celes and Terra more aware of the reason he says the things he does.  Also, bonus points for anybody that recognizes why I used the name Tina when Celes was confused ^_^

For those of you who have never experienced the masterpiece that this game represents I truly hope my story inspires you to do so.  It truly is one of the greatest stories ever told.

Thank you so much for reading, I can't wait to hear what you think!


Chapter 2

Title: Chapter Two: A Lesson in Life and Love

[Author's notes:

Chapter 2


What The Heart Remembers

Chapter Two


“As both a soldier and a man of honor I am bound in my duty to my Emperor, and for as long as I live I will hold to the vows I have sworn... and yet... what is this stirring in my heart?  I know well the horrors of war, for I have seen my share of the carnage wrought by conflict and thus I cannot ignore this feeling that something is wrong.  Allowing the use of the Slave Crown on the girl is simply the latest in a line of actions that I cannot believe the man I respect as a father would allow.  I have done what I can to preserve her sanity, but it shames me that I have not put a stop to this madness...

I sense that Kefka's hand is guiding these matters, yet without proof I cannot take action.  For now... I must wait and continue to serve.”

                                     -The Diary of General Leo Christophe



A lesson in life and love...


    The Scarlet Blade Tavern was alive and thriving in spite of the late hour.  Through the heavy doors I could hear the buzz of music, dancing, and general merriment that you would expect from such an establishment.  I had never found much desire to visit the place other than for the sake of making an appearance after decisive battles.  A former commanding officer had instructed me on the necessity for appearing as 'one of the boys', as he had put it.  Though I found no fun in thwarting my fellow officers' advances and usually left early, my visits had gone a long way to boost morale.  Tonight, however, I was in search of something I desperately needed and could find nowhere else at so late an hour – a nice hot meal.  After checking on my charge and dropping off the mysterious moogle plushie, I decided to pay a visit to the kitchens to recover some stamina and pick up something for Terra.  Unfortunately I found them locked up for the night and had no choice but to search elsewhere, which led me here.

    'Alright, just get in, order a few meals to go, and get out,'  I thought to myself reassuringly.

    An angry groan from my stomach reminded me of the urgency of this venture so I took a deep breath and pushed open the doors.  A blast of warm air and noise washed over me as I stepped into the large building that housed the place.  The same, all too familiar, discomfort I always felt at social gatherings rose up to form a lump in my throat.  My eyes traveled first to the stage where a three person band was currently strumming out a jaunty tune and then to the dance floor where various couples swayed and swung their partners around to the rhythm.  Being raised into the military had fortunately spared me from the toil of learning such frivolities, and even more so from participating in the endless number of formal balls that the Emperor seemed so fond of.  I continued my visual sweep past a group of tables crowded with boasting soldiers and starry eyed admirers and finally found what I was looking for.  I made my way as quickly as possible through the mass of bodies to the bar and waited for the server to notice me.

    “Come on, sugar, it's only twenty gold and I'm worth every bit of it...” a sultry voice cooed from nearby.  I turned to see a scantily dressed woman trying to work her tricks on a heavily intoxicated Sergeant.

    “Damn floozies...” I muttered under my breath, turning away from the two and brightening somewhat when I noticed a vase of roses sitting on the bar.  They had begun to wilt from the heat but still held a fading beauty that could be admired even in a place like this.  I reached out to caress the silken folds, a hint of nostalgia beginning to float through the back of my mind... only to be driven away as a hand groped my bottom.  My fingers clenched around the rose as I spun around to bring me face to face with a beautiful young woman with a grin from ear to ear.

    “Oops, sorry sweetie, I just couldn't stop my hand from slipping,” she giggled as I gaped at the woman like a fish out of water.  I couldn't recall ever being touched in such a way and here she was giggling away like a school girl.  “Is that for me?” she asked, snatching the rose I hadn't even realized I was brandishing out of my hands and tucking the stem behind her ear.  “If you're trying to charm your way into my good graces...” she said, turning around and wiggling her bottom, “then you're off to a good start!” she finished, turning back to wink and blow a kiss over her shoulder.

Sassy, flirtatious, and possessing a vast knowledge of the world and it's people.  With her pretty face and heart of gold, not even the sky is her limit...

    “Name's Angela, welcome to the Scarlet Blade!” she shouted merrily, throwing her arms out with a flourish.  “So, would you like me to take your order or would prefer me to just... take you.”  She leaned forward to let out a throaty purr.

     The motion seemed expertly practiced to put the young woman's more than ample cleavage on display and, try as I might, I could not keep my eyes from dipping down.  My cheeks filled with color from both the unfamiliar interaction and, I'm embarrassed to admit, from the only partially obstructed view of her breasts that was being offered.  Eventually though, my senses returned and I raised my eyes to cast a weak glare at the women.

    “I would never consort with a floo...” I managed to stop myself from saying something so uncouth, “with someone of your... profession,” I finished awkwardly.  The woman stared at me deadpan for what was quite possibly the longest minute of my life before bursting into tears.

    “I can't believe the famed General Celes Chère just called me a whore!” she wailed so loudly that it drew glances from everyone within fifteen paces.  “I'm a dancer and a really really good one too!  I... I just wanted to show my appreciation for your hard work, and you call me a whore for my troubles!”  Fear, shame, and embarrassment mixed in the pit of my stomach and forced me into desperate action.

    “I'm so sorry!” I said, reaching out to put my hands on her shoulders.  “I-I didn't... I didn't mean it like that, I swear!  I don't think you're a floozy!”

    “A floozy!” she sobbed, burying her face into my neck.

    “No!  I said I don't think you're a floozy!  Don't!” I shouted, casting nervous glances at the questioning looks we were receiving from the other patrons.

    “You... you really mean that?” she whimpered.

    “I do!  I swear it on my honor!”

    “Then,” she sniffled, “will you buy me dinner to apologize?”

    “Yes!  I would love to buy you dinner!  Anything to correct the insult I've shown you!”

    “Will... will you let me dance for you?” she asked, her voice so meek that I could barely hear it over the sounds of the tavern.

    “It would be a pleasure to have you dance for me...” I said, my voice catching in my throat as I realized what I was agreeing to.  I couldn't even begin to wonder how the situation had spiraled so far out of my control.  And worst of all...

    “Wonderful!” she said happily, giving me a peck on the cheek as she pulled away to arms length.  Her cheeks were dry and her eyes weren't even rimmed with tears.  Confusion gripped me for the barest of moments before all that had happened set in.

    “Oh hell...” I muttered as laughter erupted all around us, Angela even gave a little bow which only added to their mirth.  With blushing face downcast, I turned to leave only to be stopped by a pair of arms wrapped around my waist.  I felt dizzy and only part of it was from the embarrassment I was feeling.

    “Oh come on, sweetheart, I'm just having a bit of fun with you!” she said with a laugh, spinning me around so that I was facing her.  The mischievous gleam in her eyes faded as she looked into mine.  “Are you okay?” she asked, voice filling with concern.  My stomach groaned and the dizziness doubled in intensity.  The next thing I knew my face was planted into her cleavage and I was being half-carried, half-dragged for a few steps and then eased down into a chair.  “What's wrong, sweetie?” the four phantom images of Angela asked in unison.

    “I just... I need to eat... drained all my magic healing Terra... so many injuries... bastard clown...” I slurred, not quite comprehending what I was saying.

    “You sit tight, hon, I'll be right back!” her voice floated into my ears, like she was already far away.  Through sheer force of will I kept my head from thumping into the table but I couldn't be sure for how long I actually managed before something hard pressed against my lips and the smell of broth filled my nostrils.  “Drink this nice and slow,” she instructed.

    I could feel the liquid touch my lips and opened my mouth to let the soup, which my ravenously hungry mind decided was the most delightful thing I'd ever tasted, fill my mouth and slide down my throat.  The effect was almost instant; I was reborn.  My hands came up to take the bowl from her hands and I increased the tilt, draining the entire thing in one long guzzle.  I slammed the bowl down on the table and my eyes cleared and focused to take in Angela regarding me with a mixture of worry and awe.

    “I apologize for my moment of weakness,” I started somberly, “I worked powerful healing magic earlier and it drained me more than I had realized.”  Her eyes lit up at the mention of magic but she restrained herself from asking any questions, something I greatly appreciated.

    “No worries, hon, sorry my little performance came at such a bad time.  It's rare that I get the chance to tease a major player and I just couldn't resist!”

    “No, that's quite alright, you couldn't have known,” I said, taking a bite of bread to try and hide my embarrassment.  Something clicked in my mind just then.  “How did you know who I was?” I asked.  Angela smiled brightly.

    “Any entertainer worth their salt knowns the top brass of the place they work.”  I nodded at the reasoning, but she wasn't finished.  “You're a bit different though, you're like an elusive princess!”  I choked on the bit of bread I was eating.

    “W-What do you mean?”

    “Let's see...” she murmured, tapping a finger to her chin.  “You live in the palace.  You rarely make appearances, usually only after some big success on the battlefield as a sort of congratulations to the soldiers.  There's always ample amounts of gossip and scores of rumors floating around about you.  Then there's...”

    “Rumors?” I interrupted, my interest suddenly piqued.

    “Oh, the usual, that you're the Emperor's illegitimate child, that you're being offered in marriage to a high ranking Returner as a means to end the war, or that there's a secret fling between you and General Leo.  Nothing out of the ordinary.”

    “Foolishness,” I scoffed.  “My parents died when I was a baby, I have the records to prove it.  Such a marriage would have no effect on the war as I have no political standing.  And General Christophe is the most noble and honorable man I have ever met and would sooner run himself through then betray his beloved, not to mention my own qualms about the situation.”  She seemed to be absorbing this information as hungrily as I had the soup, and too late I realized that she had easily pumped me for information to sate her curiosity.  I chided myself for being so slow to discern the situation and vowed to control my tongue better.

    “Oh, you know soldiers, every one of them would give their left arm for a chance to bed you, and failing that they create themselves an unbeatable rival to justify it.”  My face darkened over at the mention of my admirers, when Angela saw it her smile widened almost imperceptibly.  I wondered if this too had somehow confirmed some suspicion of hers.  “Just like an elusive princess...” she said with a little sigh for added drama.  I finished the rest of my meal in silence, suddenly feeling uncomfortable under the woman's gaze.

    “Thank you for the meal, Angela.  It was the most satisfying I've had in a long time.  Would it be possible to get another?  As well as a large serving of soup in something that I can carry home?” I asked, placing money for three meals onto the table and standing to leave.  She regarded me curiously for a moment before collecting the money and weaving through the crowd towards the kitchen.

    I could feel eyes on me, bearing down on me from all directions.  I cast my own gaze around uncomfortably, a faint trickle of magical energy subconsciously trickling into my hands.  This is why I hated visiting places like this, the way I was always regarded as something... abnormal.  The painfully familiar desire to feel welcome, or at the very least, normal, settled in the pit of my stomach.  My eyes lingered on the face of a waitress and I realized that but for a small change at birth, it could have been me there smiling and laughing amidst the crowd.  Maybe Angela was right about me, maybe I was like an elusive princess... only one that was trapped in an icy tower and forever doomed to look down on the world longingly.  

    I realized how much my mind was drifting into weakness and bit my lip to rid myself of it.  My thoughts now clear, I realized I had forgotten something.

    “Damn it all, how could I have been so heartless as to not give her a tip!” I mumbled, cursing myself for my carelessness.

    “I figured you were merely distracted, princess.” Angela's voice drifted over my shoulder.  I spun around to see her smiling at me and holding out a large bag to me.  For what felt like the dozenth time since I'd met her I felt my cheeks coloring as I reached out to take the bag from her.  As I did so I noticed that she had draped a light jacket over her bare shoulders.  She caught my eyes and that mischievous gleam from before returned.  “As recompense you can walk me home on this chilly night.  Surely a brave knight like yourself wouldn't let a fair damsel travel alone?” she questioned, acting for all the part like a frail maiden.  I couldn't help the smile that tugged at my lips as I took the bag from her.

    “Very well, I will accompany you to your...” she was already looping her arm through mine and tugging me towards the entranceway.

    “You need to loosen up a little, princess,” she said with a laugh as we stepped out into the chill night air.  “Life's too short to stand on ceremony, especially with someone of my questionable morals,” she finished with a wink.  I actually managed to keep the blood from rushing to my face and offered her a wry smile.

    “Easier said then done... fair damsel,” I shot back.  I'd intended to say it in a teasing tone, but I wasn't exactly sure how and it came out sounding rather chiding.  Angela seemed to understand what I was attempting though and giggled behind her hand.

    “That's more like it!” she said happily and gave my arm a little squeeze.  I swallowed nervously and turned my face away from hers.

    We walked in relative silence for a few minutes.  The only sounds that of the clicking of her heels on the stonework.  My mind wandered, and I marveled at the nature of my companion.  Angela was so open and honest.  Devious, yet kind and good natured all at the same time.  I wondered, and maybe even hoped, if I could ever be like the woman who held my arm.

    We crossed into the Residential District, the small houses and clusters of apartments all tightly packed together.  I subconsciously pulled Angela a little closer to me, feeling as if we were being watched from every darkened alleyway.

    “You're sweet,” she said, leaning her head on my shoulder.  “That's a little surprising, if you don't mind my saying...” she added a little timidly.  The fact that a woman like her possessed any timidity surprised me far more than the question itself.

    “How do you mean?”

    “The few times I've seen you in person you seemed a little... cold, distant even.  Like you felt that you didn't really belong, or something.  I'm sorry, that must sound really rude.”  A wry smile spread across my face.

     “No, you're quite right...” I said, my voice trailing off.

     I'd wanted to say more, but the lump forming in my throat was making it difficult.  Apart from Cid I'd never really talked to anybody about myself and I wasn't sure of how to go about it.  As it turned out, I wouldn't get the chance to find out as a shambling figure emerged from a nearby alleyway and approached us.  The man was unshaven, wore ragged clothes, and smelled like it had been a good while since his last scrubbing.  I positioned myself between him and Angela and reached for my sword with my free hand only to have it caught by hers and returned to my side.

    “Hello, Cliffe, how are you doing this fine evening?” She asked the man, giving me a look that said we were in no danger.

    “Oh, about the same, Angela,” he murmured.  His timid voice carried the sound of a broken spirit.  The tension drained from my limbs and I settled in to watch with great interest.

    “You able to get anything to eat today?”  The man nodded and mumbled something about leftovers from a bakery.  Angela smiled and fished a few gil out of a concealed purse and pressed them into the man's hands.  “You head over to the Blade and tell Shirley I said to whip you up an extra special order, okay hon?”  A smile creaked through the man's weathered face.

    “Bless ya, Angela,” he said with such honest gratitude that it warmed my heart.  I started for my own purse to contribute but again found my hand stopped by Angela's, this time having her fingers interlaced through mine.

    “You take care now!” she called, waving with her free hand as the man stumbled off.  “He lost his family to the war,” she said somberly when he was out of earshot.  “I feel bad for the guy, so I like to help him out a little when I can.”

    “Then why did you stop me?” I asked.  She turned her smiling eyes on me and the combined effect of her gaze and the feeling of her fingers between mine created a peculiar tumbling feeling in my chest.

     “That was sweet of you, really, but if you gave him too much, as I suspect you would have, he would probably have spent it on booze to drown away his misery.  A few gil and the fresh idea of a meal will usually end with a full belly and hope for a better tomorrow.”

    “You're wonderful...” I said, staring at her with sheer wonderment.  Never in my life had I known someone so caring and selfless.

    “Oh, you're just trying to make me blush!”

    “It's true!” I exclaimed, the tumbling feeling building higher and higher in my chest.  “I can't even begin to imagine how wonderful it must feel to be a normal woman!”  And just like that the warmth in her eyes was replaced by concern and the feeling was gone.

    “What do you mean?”

    I bit my lip and cursed myself for expressing something so personal and unsettling.

    “It's nothing you need worry about...” I murmured, turning my eyes away.

    “It's okay,” she said, giving my hand a reassuring squeeze.  “I'm nosy, but I'm not heartless.”  

    And as simple as that, the matter was dropped.  She tugged me along on our way down the street and began humming the tune that had been playing in the tavern as we walked.  It was off key and she was improvising the parts she couldn't remember, but for reasons I couldn't understand at the time I found her version far more enjoyable.  Eventually though, the tune came to a halt and I realized that we'd come to a stop in front of a rundown building that likely housed a few dozen small apartments.

    “Residential Block C-3,” I noted, “I used to patrol this area back when I was a grunt.”

    “Back when there were patrols,” she added, failing to mask the bitterness.  I frowned apologetically.

    “We're at war, some cutbacks are unavoidable,” I said.  The words sounded hollow even to my ears.

    “And some things shouldn't be ignored; like the lives of your citizens...”  I stepped back as if I'd been struck.  For seemingly the hundredth time in so few days the Emperor's actions had been called into question and the accusations were starting to gain weight.

    “I... I'm sorry...” I whispered, at a loss for words.  She regarded me for a moment and her eyes softened.

    “Nah, I'm sorry.  Times are tough right now for everyone.  I didn't mean to take it out on you, sweetheart.  Especially when you were kind enough to walk me home after all that teasing I did.” she said with a little laugh, the smile returning to her eyes.

    “It was a pleasure, Angela,” I said, offering my hand awkwardly.  There was something in her smile that had me flustered.  She looked at the hand and laughed.

    “Oh you're just adorable!” she said, leaning in to place a kiss on my cheek.  I nearly lost my grip on the bag when her warm lips pressed against my skin.  When she finished, she didn't pull away but rather leaned in closer to whisper in my ear.  “Don't think I've forgotten about the dance you owe me...”  If I'd been too stunned to blush when she kissed me it had passed now.  “I figure you have someone to get home to, so I'll let you go... for now...”  

    She pulled away and walked to the doors of the apartment complex, pausing to turn and give me a sultry wink before stepping into the building and leave me alone in the chill night air.

    'Is... is that really what a normal woman is like?'  I pressed my fingers against the place where her lips had touched my cheek.  The smile tugging at my lips wouldn't be denied.  'I think I might enjoy finding out...'  With that, I spun on my heel and made for the palace.


    I barely remembered the walk back, it felt as if I was floating on a cloud the whole way.  The moment I stepped through the doorway, however, I was on high alert.  The usual silence I had come to expect wasn't there to greet me.  In it's place was a faint murmuring.  I stalked silently towards my chambers and nudged the door open to peek inside.  What I saw added to the surprising amount of cheer I had built up over the course of the strange night.

    Terra had propped herself up with a few pillows and was holding the oddly delivered moogle plushie by its arms to make it dance across her lap.  She was humming some unfamiliar tune for the toy to dance to.  Her bright green eyes shimmered with simple joy.  I watched her for a time, drinking in the absence of fear and pain that she had radiated before.  I felt... warm, knowing that I had contributed to the girl's healing.  The humming had stopped.  I shook myself from my reverie to see those green eyes regarding me curiously.

     “Hello,” I said, offering her a warm smile.  “I thought you might be hungry when you woke, so brought you some soup.”  I indicated the bag in my hand.  She sat still as a statue, which made me a little uncomfortable.  “Do you think you could eat something?” I asked.  When she finally decided to respond, she first looked down at the moogle in her lap, then back up at me to tilt her head curiously.



To be continued...

[End notes:

Here we are again, far later than I wanted as usual *slumps shoulders*  The usual apologies for lateness, moving on!

For those of you wondering who the hell Angela is; she's a character that was cut from the game early in the development process but some of her code can still be found in the game.  What little is known about her will find it's way into my story where she can finally enjoy the beautiful world of Final Fantasy VI  ^_^

Unless something else comes to mind, there'll be two more chapters taking place before the game and then we get into the really interesting stuff.  I need to change the world in a very subtle way so as to keep the original story alive while inserting my own elements into it.  It's going to be so beautiful... I can't wait to hear what all of you think of it!


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