Dark Skies over Palamecia

Ch 6, part 8

"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.

Part 8

Cantirena walked with her head held high. She was quiet, but holding Minwu's hand, she didn't feel like there was much to say. The jungle was getting thicker as the group headed in the direction of the town they saw in the distance, and the further they went into the brush, the harder it was to see ahead. It suddenly became more humid and monsters started appearing more regularly. But she didn't waver. Cantirena had found some sort of confidence, and she prayed to the Goddess that she was able to keep it.

But behind Minwu and Cantirena, the other two sisters were having a lively conversation as they kept going forward.

"And so I told him, 'there ain't no man alive that can pull that shit off'," Candice said with this very silly expression her face. "The guy, drunk off his ass, got so mad he ended up betting me a full thousand gil that he could do it… and he totally lost. I'd never encountered a bigger idiot in my entire life."

Clarisse couldn't hold back her laughter. "How do you get into situations like this?"

"Oh, trust me, you don't want to know the answer to that question," Candice sad. "Poft's not the safest of places, if you know what I mean. Paloom's a little nicer, but not by much. When you're surrounded constantly by smugglers, pirates, and slave traders, well, you tend to learn to play along so they don't outsmart you." All of a sudden, her short skirt and low collar made a lot more sense. She carried herself like she lived among the troubled people of the world, but she didn't really have that kind of attitude when talking to everyone in the party.

"Is that how you got into the… plundering profession?"

"I don't plunder." Candice retorted sharply. "Listen, the only reason why I have daggers on me is because we were rushed out of Altair so fast I couldn't get to the weapon's shop. Paul gave me these to defend myself and help out in battle. Truthfully, I'm an archer and I prefer to stand far the hell away from any assailant, thanks." She shrugged. "The last time I had a bow, it was taken from me so I could be sent to the damn slave labor camp outside the Palamecian capital."

That caught Cantirena's attention. She remembered walking out from the Dreadnaught, greeting Mateus, and looking around, down from the side of the mountain. There was a training ground right next to the castle, and there was a large wall which separated the training grounds from the fields. Small shacks littered the area. That was a slave camp? She had no idea how the Emperor ran things, even though she stayed in the castle for a while. It terrified her to think about it. She helped him. She helped the Emperor. It made her mind spark with all sorts of visions – things she'd done with her own hands. It made her hands tremble. Cantirena could feel the energies in her body react to the thoughts that ran across her mind. It was so easy to shoot of magic that could kill. With one swipe of her hand, she could kill. Part of her wanted to indulge that, but a voice pulled her right out of it.

"You're lost in thought again," Minwu said, squeezing her hand.

"It's hard not to be," Cantirena said gently. "A lot happened between Fynn's massacre and when I woke up in Altair. Even though I have control of my mind and memories again, there are times when… when I feel this urge to…"

"Unleash the powers he brought out of you," Minwu finished her sentence. "It confused me at first. You were my student. Except for the very basics, I did not teach you how to wield black magic. I showed you just enough. When I first found you, you had a shell spell protecting you from the burning building. You had so much spirit, the light needed to use white magic to the fullest potential. But you used a full scale Firaga in our first battle together after coming home from his grasp. The highest level fire spell was nothing but child's play to you."

Cantirena sighed. "You are right. I know all sorts of elemental magic. You didn't teach me how to use them. When I woke up… when I woke up after lying in the Emperor's bed for days, I… I felt the magic inside of me. And I needed to use them. I needed to use them on people."

"That was the Demon King's influence. It was not you," Minwu said very reassuringly. "You were never a violent student. You were never a violent person. Growing up, your heart was nothing but gentle and peaceful… You were to be my successor in the powers of White Magic, but I've not seen you cast a single cure spell since we've been reunited."

"I… I hate to have to tell you this, but…" she sighed. "I… I've forgotten how."

Minwu stopped walking, bringing the whole party to a halt. "You really have forgotten how to cast a cure spell?" he asked.

"Yes, I have," she said sadly. "When I realized that I couldn't cast cure anymore, I…"

"Wait. You either forgot how to do it, or you just simply can't do it. Which is it?" Minwu asked. "Answer me, my student!" His eyes seemed filled with nothing but worry.

Cantirena closed her eyes. She put her hands together, as she always did when she cast cure spells before. Her body started to feel the peaceful, light-based aura required for casting healing magic, but when she started to bring it forth, to actually cast the spell, the light vanished and the aura dissipated completely. "I can't do it anymore," she said, her mood not improving whatsoever. "I'm the failure, not you."

Minwu shook his head. "Think nothing of it. You're not here to take the graduation exam, so it should not matter."

Healing magic depends on the spirit, Minwu thought. It appears that she hasn't forgotten how to use it, but her spirit is broken to a point to where she cannot muster the healing light anymore.

"The very first line in the Mysidian Tome of Mages is 'The light of cure comes from within'," Cantirena said, starting to walk again. "Even when I was under the influence of the Demon King, I never forgot that. In fact, it… triggered a lot of flashbacks when I first remembered it after discovering the black magic." She didn't wait for anyone to catch up to her.

It only means that my spirit is broken, Cantirena thought. That what I've done weighs so heavily on my heart that… I don't have light inside anymore. I gave it up. Willingly.

"Don't get all worked up over it," Candice said cheerfully. "Cantirena will heal. Give it time. She's not been back from Palamecia, what a week? Think of it… like… when someone quits smoking. The thoughts and habits are going to be there for a long time. She's not a broken person, Minwu." As she walked past Minwu, she put a hand on his shoulder. "She just needs our love and support. That's all."

"Wow, Candi, that's pretty deep," Clarisse said. "You sound like a chapter from a self-help booklet."

"I'm only speaking from experience," she said, flipping her hair back. "If it wasn't for my dad's constant support, I wouldn't have broken away from the shadows that chased me for a very long time. We all have a type of darkness that we have to fight against. It's not the same for everybody, but the solution is always the same. Be there for whoever needs us the most, and we'll always come out on top!"

Minwu smiled underneath his mask. "I appreciate your reassurance. Thank you for your words of wisdom."

"Hey, you're in love with my sister, right?" Candice asked. "That practically makes you my brother!"

"…in love," Minwu whispered. "I'm not sure if-"

"Oh yeah, because you were making out with Cantirena in the tent while you were alone because you wanted to offer her comfort," Clarisse said bluntly. "Of course. That's the logical way to offer comfort, right?"

"But I-"

"Oh, Minwu! Don't blame the fact that you're from another culture," Candice said. "Being exposed to our 'outside' culture has changed you. You only adapted to what you've seen. I mean, I'm sure you got to see plenty of Princess Hilda and Prince Scott being intimate, right? You were her personal attendant for how long?"

"Tha- that's not…!" Minwu had become flustered.

"HEY!" Cantirena shouted from down the path a bit. "Are you coming or am I making this mystical journey of self discovery on my own?!"

"Coming," Minwu said, taking the opportunity to get out from between Clarisse and Candice. He couldn't believe the audacity of teenage girls. They thought everything was about romance. Everything! Well, they were wrong. Very wrong.

It doesn't change the fact that they did find us lip-locked, Minwu thought. And girls like to overreact to kissing. Even Hilda got worked up over kissing when she was that age. Perhaps it sends hormone signals through the body? I do know about the dreams and why they exist. I imagine that the romance obsession is connected to the same phenomenon.

Cantirena was waiting there with her hands on her hips, like she was impatient. "I thought you said you didn't want anything to slow us down," she said.

"You are right. We do need to keep moving," Minwu answered.

"What were you doing back there, anyway?"

"Your sisters were teasing me," he replied. "They do that a lot, I've noticed."

"Minwu," Cantirena said, "They only tease you because you're connected to me, and they know that it bothers me. I'm the runt of the litter, and they just love to make me remember that fact."

"Are you talking about me behind my back?" Clarisse asked, glomping onto Cantirena's shoulders from behind.

"No, I'm talking about you in front of you," she retorted.

"Oh, look, we've got a smartass over here," Candice said, "Crouching mage, hidden smartass."

"Knock it off," Cantirena grunted at them both. "You're slowing us down."

"Funny, we only stopped 'cause you were getting emotional again."

"We only stopped 'cause Minwu stopped."

"Gosh, you two, go under a bush, do the dirty and get it out of your systems all damn ready! Don't worry, we'll set up camp while you do. The sexual tension between you two is so thick I could use it as a quilt. Which would be really weird, now that I think about it."

"Candice, shut your pie hole before I stuff pie in it!"

"I want pie… hell yeah, give me some pie."

"Clarisse!"

"…you walked into that one. That's your fault."

Minwu wanted to slap all three of them by the end of it. "AHEM!" he shouted, catching everyone else's attention. "If you'd kindly stop bickering?"

Cantirena nodded. "Yes, teacher…" she looked down at the ground.

"Aye, aye, Cap'n Minwu," Candice said, walking past him.

"Sorry about that," Clarisse said. "It… did get out of hand."

Minwu kept walking. He didn't have anything else to say. He just wanted out of the jungle and in town, so he could get everything taken care of. The closer he got, the more nervous he became.

When Cantirena started walking, she heard some sort of high-pitched sound in the distance.

"Hmm?" she asked, looking around. "Did anyone else hear that?"

"I didn't hear anything," Candice said.

There it was again. It wasn't a human sound at all. It sort of sounded like a 'wark'.

Cantirena put her hands on her hips. "I swear I'm not just hearing things. Something in coming this way."

Minwu took a few seconds to look around. "I can't say I hear anything either. But be on your guard in case something does come this way."

Suddenly, everyone could hear it. It was very loud now. With it, the trees and bushes rustled around them.

WARK!

Cantirena, without having to think about it, used her hands to cast a barrier around the four of them, which pulled them closer together. "There's only one creature that makes that kind of sound," she said.

Out of the trees came a very large black bird which stood taller than any of them. It had a bright pink beak and deep blue eyes. It had a very large plume of feathers for a tail, and waved them around as it kept making its sound.

Wa-a-a-rk!

"It's a chocobo," Minwu said. "A… black chocobo."

"What? The only chocobos I've ever seen are yellow," Candice said. "There are black chocobos, too?"

The chocobo warked at them several times before using its two long legs to fiddle with the dirt beneath its claws. It looked at the group curiously, but after a few seconds, it started to peck in the dirt. Cantirena pulled her barrier down almost instantly.

"A chocobo," she said. "Come here." Cantirena extended her hand to the bird, and it responded by pecking her on the head. "Hey… don't peck my brains out. You can't eat them, I need them." She giggled at the chocobo and it calmly made quieter versions of its signature call, as if it was giggling along with her. "Well now, big fella, I wonder where you came from."

Minwu walked closer to the chocobo. "That's a good question. Chocobos are only native of Kashuon. I never imagined I would see a wild one out here this far. Perhaps someone in Mysidia has begun breeding them in captivity?"

Clarisse reached over to put her hand on the top of the chocobo's head, and it warked at her, letting her pet him. "He's tame to us, so it's not hard to believe he would have been raised by humans," she said.

A mysterious voice came from behind them. "He was raised by humans," the voice said. It was decidedly female, though very quiet. "By me, specifically."

Minwu stopped for a second. He knew that voice. When he turned to look behind them, he saw a woman wearing clothes very much like his. Her head and body were all covered, except for the area around her eyes. Instead of wearing white, however, she wore black. "Fate plays a cruel hand," he said quietly. "To see you in charge of breeding chocobos, lady Say-Ri."

"I am not the mage I once was," the woman replied. "I never thought I would ever see you again, Ming-Wu."

"Likewise," Minwu said. "Well met, old friend."

Say-Ri bowed her head. "I take it you have brought a student with you, though it looks like you have an entire class."

"I do not have a class. If I had more than my one student to my name, I believe I would lose all sanity I claim to have," Minwu said, gently pulling Cantirena in front of him. "This one is my student. Her name is Cantirena."

"And the other two?"

"Her sisters. They are under my protection and guardianship until they are returned to their families. The situation is more than complex, but I do not have time to speak of it freely," Minwu said hastily. "I will speak with the Circle of Mages first on the troubles of the outside."

Cantirena felt like she was being stared down by this Say-Ri. She did not like the aura this woman gave off, and she found herself wanting to cling to Minwu's arm, but she resisted. It would have looked bad to someone of Mysidia if they were too affectionate.

"Troubles," Say-Ri repeated. "I have heard very terrible things about the state of the world, Ming-Wu. Come, let me welcome you and your party to Mysidia. I'm sure your teacher would love to see you again."

"He… he's still alive?" Minwu asked in disbelief.

That's not what I wanted to hear, he thought. I did not want to come back for this exact reason…

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