Ch 5, part 9
"Dark Skies over Palamecia" – a Final Fantasy II retelling
Disclaimer: Square Enix owns Final Fantasy II and all FFII characters featured within. Original characters and interpretations are owned by the co-writers of this fan fiction. There is no profit being made from this story.
It took three days of nothing but walking during the daytime and sleeping after sunset for Minwu and the three girls to even see anything other than the empty marshland. When Candice first laid eyes on the Winding Mountains, she jumped for joy. There were trees, and birds flying overhead, and clouds in the sky. She could have sworn that the marsh was just a wet desert, with how flat and empty it was. But she finally had hopes that they were going somewhere, that the quest was actually leading up to a point and not just some wild goose chase. Candice was excited, to say the least. Something different to look at, to exist in. She always hated constant sameness.
At the base of the mountains, Minwu had the group stop their progress. He looked at the soil, examining it very closely. He licked his finger and put it in the air, to feel exactly the way the winds were going. He listened to the birds to hear their tweeting. He found some meaning in all of it, and it drove him to a certain point of crazy that none of the girls were quite ready to keep up with.
Clarisse had gone off in a different direction from Minwu, armed with knives and her trusty sword, ready to hunt for nearby meat. She was tired of living off of what was inside the Item Pouch. Now that there were animals to hunt, she jumped on that opportunity the moment it presented itself.
"Hey, Minwu, we're not on a nature hike," Candice said impatiently. She noticed that Cantirena, who usually was following everything Minwu did, was sitting on the ground with her eyes closed. Not quite asleep, but certainly not paying the world around her much attention. "You okay, short stuff?"
"Excuse me?" Cantirena retorted, cocking up an eyebrow. That seemed to strike a nerve. "I'm trying to find my center."
"You're meditating?" Candice asked.
"In layman's terms, yes," Cantirena said. "I'm doing it because I've felt weak too long, and to expend less energy, I should find my center to even things out."
"Geez, I thought you were too weak because you've shared a tent with Minwu every night since we started this vacation," Candice said, plopping down next to Cantirena.
"…are you going to try to get that out of me again? You've been asking every day," Cantirena said, crossing her arms. "And for the last time, no. We didn't do anything that would warrant being a conversation piece."
"Pretty much anything's okay for conversation, when you're out in the middle of nowhere like this," the older one said, pulling out her daggers. She couldn't believe that Paul just let her have them both after their misadventures in the Palamecian Capital, and she hoped that he was doing all right helping Princess Hilda back in Altair. "Anything helps to pass the time when you're alone, you know?"
"I'm not alone," Cantirena said. She looked up at the sky.
"What? You're going to tell me that the Goddess is with you always?" Candice asked in a very snarky tone. "I know you and Minwu both adhere to some religion. Maybe you want to tell me to let my faith guide me where I need to be, eh? Spiritual fulfillment and all that? Pul-lease. I've had enough of that over the course of my life, thank you very much."
"No, that's not it at all. I might believe in Cosmos, but I don't believe what the common church will tell you. They say she's omnipotent, and that she's everywhere and in all places all at once, right? I don't think that's quite the case. People are overglorifying the Goddess too much," Cantirena explained. "Something makes me feel like, maybe, she's the same as we are."
"Yep. Way I see it, the Goddess Cosmos is a normal woman. She just has way more powers than we do, but she's still a normal person," Cantirena said it very simply. "…The reason I'm not alone is because…"
"…well, aren't you going to complete that thought?"
"….because once you're cursed, it always leaves an imprint," she said. Her tone had gotten very dark, very quickly. "Stop thinking that when Minwu and I spent time alone that it's purely romantic, because that's not the reason I have to sleep beside him. My memories might be unlocked because of the power we three have between us, and I might not be a mindless zombie anymore, but I can still hear that damn voice in my mind. His voice."
"The Emperor?" Candice asked. "You… hear the Emperor?"
"Oh no. The Emperor might be a tyrant, but his voice was at least gentle sounding enough to listen to. A part of the reason I fell so hard for him was in fact his voice. But, no. This voice is deeper and much more sinister. When the Emperor gave me his orders, the voice was what told me to go along with what I had been told. It… was the Demon King, Iliua," Cantirena stood up, watching for Minwu to come back. "I cannot sleep without Minwu's spells to aid me, because that voice always comes back."
"What… what does it say to you?"
"Lots of things. It reminds me of Fynn's massacre. It reminds me of Bafsk's massacre, too. It reminds me that the Emperor will come to claim me again no matter how far I go, and when he does, I will never escape him again. It likes to keep telling me about riding on the Dreadnaught. It even loves to tell me almost every time it comes back to my dreams, the very first thing it says to me is that no matter what I feel for my teacher or try to do to save him… that he will die. And that that will be my fault, too," Cantirena said, flicking her hair off of her shoulder. "I love that man more than anyone I've ever loved anyone, ever… Minwu has done nothing but been there for me since he saved my life."
"In that sense, I have to say I'm a little jealous of you," Candice said quietly. "You have a remarkable talent for drawing people to you. I've been alone for so long, I thought no one wanted to be around me."
"You are not a bad person," Cantirena smiled as she said it. "So please don't think that you are. It's unfortunate that you were not in the same place we were, so you could have been found by our parents. I'm sure you would have had a place with us, if only you were there."
"So how do you feel about finding out your parents didn't give birth to you?"
Cantirena shrugged. "I… always felt like I was different from them. They showered me with praise and a lot of love, but they didn't even know I was going to have magical potential. Minwu telling me about how they confided in him secretly made me realize that what he was saying was true. I'd always thought I wasn't their blood, but they did care about me. I know if I was able to see them again, I'd thank them. So, when I think about that, Candice… in that sense, I have to say that I'm a little jealous of you."
Candice laughed out loud, and they shared a hug.
"We have to stick together," Cantirena said.
"I'm with you on that," Candice said, pulling away.
Clarisse came running up, holding two big rabbits bound to a stick by their feet so they would be unable to escape. "What do you two say to a big pot of fresh rabbit stew?"
"Oh god, I could go for some fresh meat," Candice said. "Let's skin 'em now, and get this started."
Minwu came up, much more quietly. When he saw the rabbits, he hurried over. "You cannot eat those," he said. "Release them."
"But Minwu…" Candice said. "They're plump and look like they could feed us enough to last three days!"
"This is not the season for rabbit," he said sharply. "They will taste terrible and carry parasites in them this time of year. You cannot eat them. If you do, you'll get the fever, and I'll have to leave you here."
"That's a bit cold," Clarisse groaned. "I just spent all that effort catching them, too."
"Not to worry," Minwu said kindly. "I figured you three would want something fresh to eat, so I picked these on my way back. They're full of natural vitamins and will boost your vitality for the next part of the trek." He handed them each what looked like a banana, but smelled like a durian.
"Oh Goddess," Clarisse shouted. "That stinks to high hell!"
Cantirena opened hers just like she would a banana and found the fruit inside to be a very dull green. The smell was even worse now. "I believe I've studied something like this before, but I've never tried it."
"It only grows on the base of the Winding Mountains," Minwu said. "That would be why. The smell is the plant's way of keeping you from picking it, but trust me. You can live weeks on just this alone. It's full of all sorts of things that are good for you. And it tastes much better than it smells."
"I wouldn't find that hard to believe," Candice said, plugging her nose. "Dad's number one rule for food: if it stinks, don't eat it."
"Well, you wouldn't know this, as you've never been exposed to this kind of fruit, but if you cook it, the smell goes away," Minwu said. "But this is not the place to set up camp. I've checked around, and I can tell that the Mysidian climate has indeed changed since the last time I was here."
"Does that mean anything important? The weather changes all the time," Candice said, trying to hold back her gag reflex. That smell was just too damn much.
"We need to hike up further. There will be fog if we wait here. The fog here is impossible to navigate properly," Minwu explained. "When we set up the tent for the night, I will explain further. Right now we need to get to the highest altitude we can manage."
"The?" Clarisse asked. "You're only setting up one tent?"
"You'll see why when we get there," Minwu said. "Cantirena… are you all right?"
She put the fruit she was holding away, and then looked at her teacher with a very slight smile. "Forgive me, I… can't shake… this weird feeling," she said, walking up to Minwu.
"We will talk about it later. I would discuss it with you now, but we've no time. This place is dangerous at night. I'm sorry if you think I'm rushing you," Minwu said carefully.
"You're not rushing me," she said, gripping onto his arm. "I'll go anywhere you do."