Sabin and Cyan spent a cold night
manacled in a small metal cage that smelled of chocobo droppings.
They were awoken before dawn by commotion in the camp. Sabin pulled
his knees under himself and squirmed upright to look around.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“The general’s troops prepare for battle,” Cyan replied.
“But there haven’t even been any negotiations.”
“There will be negotiations, but Celes first seeks leverage. She will dazzle her foe with the size of her force. She has at least thirty thousand troops to field: mostly swordsmen, archers, and siege workers, I estimate a hundred armored war birds and twice as many mounted skirmishers.”
Sabin looked into the crush of bodies running back and forth. Canvas tents blocked his view of the rest of the army.
“How can you tell?”
“Estimation mostly and a keen ear. I am not unfamiliar with siege warfare.”
Sabin nodded. Kefka had ended the siege of Doma by poisoning the water supply, resulting in the deaths of Cyan’s wife and child. Sabin wondered grimly if Celes would actually follow through with her promise of slaughtering civilians should Edgar defy her.
As the sun separated from the horizon and began shooing away the cold of night, armored soldiers came to retrieve the prisoners. Sabin and Cyan did not resist as they were led to Celes and her elite guard comprised of a dozen soldiers on chocobos.
Celes rode atop a magnificent war bird in full barding. The chocobo sported a spiked champron on its head and a steel peytral displaying the imperial crest. It wore scale flanchards on its sides and wings, and its talons had been extended with gleaming razor-sharp blades.
Celes herself wore greaves over leather leggings and a white silk shirt beneath a sleeveless brigandine with imperial magitech armor represented in red on its front. Her hair was tied back in a pony tail and a thin gold circlet crowned her head. She did not speak to the captives, but ordered her men to secure them for riding.
Sabin gave Cyan a last troubled glance before he was bound hand and foot and draped like so much dead weight across the back of a chocobo.
They had spent the morning discussing a plan, but Sabin had objected fiercely to Cyan’s proposal.
“Figaro will never surrender!” he had exclaimed loudly, causing some of Celes’s nearby soldiers to curse him and kick sand into the cage.
“Sir Sabin,” Cyan had urged in a quieter voice, “our foremost concern is Lady Terra. Thou spoke such words. If our worst fears come to pass, general Celes, with Figaro’s weapons, will be our best hope of defeating her magic.”
Intellectually Sabin agreed with Cyan’s logic, only by uniting with Celes could they create a shield against Terra’s power, and the only way to unite with Celes was by surrendering Figaro to her, but the thought of sacrificing Figaro was not an intellectual matter. Words in history books not yet written danced in Sabin’s mind: The ineffectual Figaro brothers neglected their kingdom then surrendered it as soon as the first foreign boots hit the sand. The long proud Figaro lineage would end at Sabin’s urging. He had thought himself above pride, but the weight of responsibility pushed from one side and crushed him against his pride on the other.
He swore that if got out of this alive he would never neglect his people again. In the meantime, he told Cyan that he would do what was best for the people of Figaro. This silenced the knight, but gave energy to the competing voices in his head. Would Celes fulfill her promise to raze South Figaro? What if Sabin chose wrong? Hadn’t South Figaro suffered enough: being occupied by Gestahl’s Empire while Figaro castle tunneled, then the rationing after the cataclysm, now this.
Celes, and her personal guard, with Sabin and Cyan bouncing along like baggage, rode out into the desert under a white banner of truce. Her army moved into battle formation behind them.
Edgar’s keep rose like a mirage above the sand. It shimmered in the heat, its interior kept cool by air drawn up from caverns beneath the earth. Sabin craned his neck to look up at the castle. Two blue and magenta banners outlined with gold trim flapped hesitantly in the breeze. Sabin felt disgusted. Was that all his brother could muster? Celes had arrayed her whole army for this negotiation and Edgar had lofted two banners!
The castle did not look strong. Sabin felt a pang in his heart. As weak as it appeared, could he ask his brother to surrender it? Did it matter? Figaro castle was his brother’s pride and joy; a marvel of engineering that shifted sand and moved the mass of stone on buried rails. The castle was so much Edgar’s handiwork. Maybe it could never have been Sabin’s. He shook the thought out of his head.
The wood doors of the castle groaned. Pulleys and wheels squeaked and heaved as the doors opened. Edgar, wearing a blue, hard-leather cuirass and gorget, rode out with an escort of royal guards. His regal purple cape flapped in the wind behind him. Sabin’s throat tightened at the sight. Edgar looked the part of a king, even if he did not always act it, and Sabin felt proud of him. Though they had departed on poor terms, Sabin could not remain angry with his brother.
Edgar peered curiously at the two prisoners draped like luggage. Sabin knew the instant that Edgar recognized him. Edgar’s face sagged with despair. Yes, thought Sabin, the situation is worse than you imagined, dear brother. Sabin looked away, embarrassed for having undermined his brother’s already-weak position. Celes sat high in her saddle.
The elite guards dismounted and manhandled Sabin and Cyan to the ground. The sand was soft and not yet burning hot. Sabin was struck by conflicting emotions, pleasant memories of the past mixing with the shame at what he must ask of his brother and do to Figaro’s legacy. He looked over to Cyan, to get a sense of the knight, but Cyan merely scanned the sky as if he expected Terra to drop from it at any minute.
“Celes!” Edgar called out. “When last we spoke I compared your beauty to the purity of a snowflake, but I was mistaken. Your loveliness is matched only by your penchant for treachery!”
“Greetings, King Edgar, always a pleasure to suffer your charm. I’m here to negotiate your surrender. I have prepared a list of terms.” She drew a scroll and waved it at him. “I have no desire for bloodshed. Neither do I fear it.”
Edgar’s face twisted into a sneer. “Who are you? How can you do this to your friends after all we’ve been through? Or has your traitorous instinct always run so deep?”
Celes remained impassive. Beneath her, the war bird shifted feet as if it had received the insult. Sabin looked at his brother, hoping to send a signal of some kind for him to stand down, but Edgar strictly avoided his gaze.
“There is no need for harsh words,” Celes said. “We live in a difficult world as it is. Perhaps you have forgotten that. This is not the world you once knew and I am not the person you once knew.” Celes cleared her throat. “Let’s start over. I am Empress Celes Chere, ex-imperial special forces magitek division, former imperial general. I have an army you cannot match that can raze South Figaro and storm your castle. Additionally, I hold your brother and your good friend Cyan Garamonde hostage. Do not think that any history between us would stay my sword should you rebuke me.
“The terms of your surrender are lenient: you shall acknowledge that I am absolute high ruler of all Figaro, provide me access to Figaro’s weapon stockpiles, blueprints, and technological artifacts, pay a small yearly tribute, and give me the right to draft soldiers. That is all. You would remain in Figaro as acting fief lord second only to me.”
“A puppet king!” Edgar exclaimed haughtily raising his chin.
“Brother, accede!” Sabin shouted before Edgar could compound his catastrophic mistakes. “All is not as it seems.”
Edgar hesitated. He looked upon Sabin, his brow knit with confusion, or perhaps concern for Sabin’s sanity.
Edgar looked back to Celes, but her face gave away nothing.
“Edgar,” Sabin pleaded, “Magic returns. The world is in great danger.”
“Dear brother, have you gone mad?” Edgar asked.
Cyan spoke up, “King, trust thine brother.”
Shattering the illusion of confident and composed royalty, Edgar blurted out, “What should I do?” One of his followers, a man wearing chancellor’s robes spurred his chocobo forward to advise the king, but he was too late.
Celes quickly spoke up, “Sabin has already answered that question; accede to me.”
“Gather your most powerful amulets,” urged Sabin.
Celes decided he had said enough. “Guard, gag the prisoners.”
Sabin ducked under the gag thrust over his mouth. “The danger is Terra.”
“Terra?” said Edgar.
“King Edgar,” Celes said, “Let’s focus on the situation at hand…”
“Empress!” A breathless imperial officer arrested his chocobo’s furious run and addressed Celes. “Empress, an urgent matter requires your attention.”
Everyone turned towards the interrupting officer. Celes glared with a force that would surely have killed him if magic had held sway, but her eyes did not linger when she saw the black smoke rising behind him. Fires raged in her army’s camp and the battle lines stirred with unrest.
“What is it?” she barked.
“Monsters. Horrible creatures come from the sea and attack us.”
Sabin could not resist the opportunity for amusement at Celes’s expense. “Ah,” he said absentmindedly, “I suppose that would be Relm and her menagerie. Did I forget to mention that she pursued us? It must have slipped my mind.”
Celes turned back to Edgar. “We will finish these negotiations later. Guards, secure these two. Commanders, turn the troops to the south. Move out!”
Everyone began to move at once, but amidst the commotion Cyan seemed removed. He stood stock still and stared into the sky. He spoke softly, but everyone heard his words: “She is here.”
A fiery pink creature streaked through the air faster than any bird or beast splitting the sky as it came on towards them. Behind the point of light huddled thick black clouds like thuggish body guards.
Sabin shook his head, trying to deny his own eyes. He had thought there would be time to prepare, ally Celes and Figaro, train and equip an army for magical warfare. Instead Terra came and those who ought to have been allies against her were enemies. What was worse, they presented her with an image of the human animal she so despised, an image of senseless warfare. His clever scheme to pit Relm and Celes against each other in order to save Figaro had utterly backfired. He cursed himself for not having foreseen this.
“You have your orders,” Celes screamed. Her men resumed their activity with vigor, as if eager for simple instructions to follow. Sabin was pulled up over the back of a chocobo. He called out to Edgar one last time, “Edgar, gather your weapons and amulets. Ride out to us.”
Then Edgar was gone, left behind in the sand and dust kicked up by the chocobo.
Celes’s battle line was in chaos. The rearguard fled north, to the front, carrying fear with them like a contagion. Celes’s commanders peeled off to rally the battalions into a semblance of order. Celes herself plunged into the middle of the tumult with Sabin, Cyan, and her personal escort close behind.