Superstitions and Delusions
Sabin could have headed back to
Nikeah, from there sailed to South Figaro, and from there walked to
Figaro castle to present himself to his brother. He could have taken
these steps, but, though magic had been banished, unseen forces yet
influenced him: shame at his failure in battle, confusion and worry
at the appearance of a monster and disappearance of Terra. The
lightest tug on the chocobo’s reins changed their direction and
destiny to the southwest.
They came upon the Isthmus of Ruin at low tide and crossed to the southern continent with Sabin little more than dead weight in the saddle. Hills and gullies spiraled outward from the remains of Kefka’s Tower at the center of the southern continent. They turned west, swinging wide of the ruins, hugging the coast where the hills petered out and gently rolled into the ocean. The chocobo brought Sabin to Tzen.
The bruised sky split open before Sabin reached the town’s stable. A cold downpour soaked him through. Tzen’s stable master had a sour disposition and took his time assessing the chocobo, determining whether the bird itself was worthy collateral against the millet it would eat and the droppings he would have to clean up. Meanwhile Sabin repeated his apologies, promised to pay him back, and shivered with cold. Finally the stable master grudgingly agreed to take charge of the chocobo without payment.
Sabin dashed through the streets to the tavern. Inside, he plunked down in from of the blazing hearth, gathering up its warmth. The place was empty save for the tavern keeper who pretended to ignore Sabin, busying himself by cleaning some glasses behind the bar.
After a while, when Sabin stopped shivering, the tavern keeper walked up behind him.
“Can I get you something?”
“I’ve no money.”
“Well the ale tastes like piss, so we’ll call it even.”
Sabin smiled in spite of himself.
“There’s a good man, come on over to the bar. People here call me Mace.”
Mace was a sturdy bearded fellow, short and stocky. He had a friendly face.
“Sabin,” Sabin replied.
“I thought I recognized you. You’re the fella who rescued Tamara’s boy. You and that woman did.”
“Well don’t be so damned modest!” He led Sabin over to the bar and poured him some ale. He was right. It did taste like piss.
“So what brings you back to humble Tzen?”
Sabin shrugged, “I don’t know. Circumstance, I suppose.”
“Here’s to circumstance,” Mace said, raising his own mug, “curse her wicked heart.”
Sabin lifted his glass then took another swig. As he lowered his cup a pair of men loudly stomped down from the rooms upstairs. They were arguing and they carried their argument into the tavern.
“Gerdau, you’re a superstitious old coot, I tell ya,” said a tan wiry man with a shaved head.
“Corinth, you’re just afraid to admit I’m right,” Gerdau, a burly fellow with wavy gray hair, replied. “It’s his ghost, it is.”
“First of all, it ain’t no it. It’s a she and she rides a chocobo. Ghosts don’t ride chocobos,” Corinth shot back.
“The thing it rides is black. Whoever heard of a black chocobo?”
“What are you thick skulls arguing about?” Mace shouted.
Gerdau replied, “You don’t want to know, little Mace, it would chill your blood and give you nightmares.”
“I’ll cut off your booze. How’s that for a nightmare?”
They all laughed, except Sabin. Then Corinth explained. “There’s something living out in the ruins of the tower. This guy,” he hooked a thumb at his older, larger companion, “thinks it’s a ghost, but I’m telling you it’s just a crazy witch.”
Something clicked in Sabin’s brain. He turned to Corinth, fixing him with a desperate stare, “Does it have green hair?”
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, she has got green hair as a matter of fact. Who are you?”
A chill that had nothing to do with his soaked clothes ran through Sabin.
“Tell me everything you know about her.”
“I don’t take orders…”
“This is my good friend, Sabin,” Mace interrupted.
“Right…” Corinth grumbled, but he went on, “Well, we been hunting what game we can find in this area. Have to keep making wider tracks to find any. Recently we’ve been hunting south of here. Not too close to the ruins mind you, but down there. We’ve seen something, something that ain’t a critter.”
“You ask me, there’s a witch in the badlands. Gerdau here will tell you its Kefka’s ghost come back to haunt the ruins, but I’ve seen her with my own eyes. She’s no ghost. She’s a green-haired witch. She has a mount, scabby beast. Who knows how it lives? Grazing on Chalk Grass, I s’pose, but not a ghost.”
Sabin looked away. “What is she doing out there?” he breathed.
“By Kefka! How should I know? No creature should walk amongst those cursed ruins. The tower that is no more, it still casts a shadow on the Earth. You tell me how that’s natural!”
Sabin shook his head. “I’m sorry. That was a rhetorical question, well, no it wasn’t. I intend to find out the answer.”
“An’ how do you propose to do that?”
“I’m going to ask her.”
The hunters and the tavern keeper tried to talk him down, but Sabin would hear none of it. He wasted no time. Striding out into the rain, he saddled up his chocobo, and headed south before the stable master even knew he was there.
Sabin hardly felt the rain as his mount ran south over the badlands. His recent troubles were forgotten, obscured behind the unquestionably necessary goal he had set before himself. Whatever Terra was doing in the ruins of Kefka’s tower, she would have some answers and at the moment nothing was more valuable to him than that.
The tower had been gigantic, a mountain worth of stone with magic for mortar. When Sabin and his companions slew Kefka they also severed the last bond linking magic to this world. The tower had crumbled and they had barely escaped to the airship in time.
Sabin came upon the edge of the ruins and found it as the hunter had described: cloaked in shadow though the clouds had long since broken. He hadn’t visited this place since the tower fell and felt great trepidation at the thought of searching the forest of semi-natural hoodoos and remnant structures of the tower. His enthusiasm had exhausted itself in the ride down and his wounded arm hurt like blazes, to say nothing of the hunger and fatigue dragging down his bones. This was a cursed place, expansive too. That became his excuse. It was too expansive to search. He would start a fire atop an exposed and visible hill on the outskirts and let Terra come to him.
He gathered brush and the driest wood he could find. He managed to start a smoky burn just as the sun set. Wood was scarce and the brush did not burn well. Sabin struggled to keep the flame alive. The stars did not come out and a bitter chill came over the land. Sabin breathed into his cold hands and stood close to the fire, but not for long as it soon demanded sustenance. Sabin’s belly grumbled as well and his chocobo tentatively sampled then rejected the chalk grass that grew between the rocks.
Night dragged on. The silence of the barren land lulled Sabin towards sleep. He dragged a large dead shrub onto the fire then gave up for the night. He curled up on his side, practically hugging the fire for warmth. Dark sleep was settling into his eyes when the hair on the back of his neck began to tingle bringing him wide awake. He was being watched.
She took time to circle him twice, like a predator. He pretended to sleep. She began her approach from behind him and when she was close, she charged. Sabin tucked his feet under himself and dove aside at the last instant. He glimpsed a flash of green, Terra’s unique hair, streaming atop a black chocobo as it trampled the ground where he had dozed and leapt over the fire.
“Terra!” he called out.
“He dares to speak as well as trespass! Is he addressing me?” She wheeled the bird around and came at him again. “Taste my magic, fool.” She threw a rock, which he easily dodged.
“Terra Branford, stop. This is ridiculous.”
“I know nothing of Terra Branford,” she declared emphatically, “I’m a Magitek riding witch, wielder of Ragnarok and Atma Weapon, most feared daughter of an Esper.”
She set about circling him.
“Chung chung chung. Magitek armor!” she imitated the sounds of the Empire’s signature battle suit.
“Terra, it’s Sabin. You know me. I was there when Ragnarok was forged. I was with you when we defeated Atma Weapon’s twin on the Floating Island.”
She slowed her chocobo and turned to face Sabin.
“Enough of your lies, mortal. I will slay you now. Feast your eyes upon the greatest weapons the world has ever known.” She released the reins and drew from both the crossed sheaths on her back. Even in the dim firelight the blades looked chipped and rusted, nonetheless, Sabin recognized them as the swords she claimed: Ragnarok, forged of magicite, and Atma Weapon, ancient sword from the War of the Magi. The blades had not held up well since losing their magical essence, but they would cut unarmored flesh all the same.
“Terra, please. I don’t want to hurt you.”
She shrieked at this indignity and charged.
Sabin dodged her clumsy slash and grabbed the reins of her chocobo with his good arm. He gave the reins just enough of a jerk to turn the bird suddenly to the side. Gripping nothing but the swords, Terra flew from the saddle and crashed to the ground. Sabin rushed to her to see if she was hurt. She swung Ragnarok at him. Instinctively he dodged, disarmed her, and sent her to sleep with a jab to the neck.
She went limp and Sabin too slumped to his knees, reeling in horror at her madness and fearing that whatever had reduced her to this state might soon break him as well. He felt neither the hunger nor the fatigue that had, up until that moment, haunted him. The pain in his arm was far away, but the horror of Terra’s madness piled upon his consciousness in thick lacquer waves. If he closed his eyes the shadow that poisoned this land could pull itself over him and smother the last of his sanity. He wondered if that had happened to Terra.
Terra… He looked at the pale sprawled form. Her splotchy pink tights were torn and smudged with dirt. Her red bodice had faded to gray. Her hair stuck out in every direction like the gnarled roots of an uprooted tree.
He realized that he had wanted more than just answers from Terra. He had wanted advice. The young girl had so impressed him that he had believed she could, in some small capacity, mentor him. Sabin had never had time to grieve after his own master, Duncan’s, murder. Sabin wondered if he had ever properly grieved for his own father who had also been murdered. So much loss and now the burdens of the world had crushed Terra’s spirit.
Sabin bowed his forehead to the earth and scooped dirt into his fists, squeezing them tight. No tears came.
After Mobliz, Sabin’s world had been empty, his direction clouded. Now he had work to do. He got up off the ground and let the dirt drain from his hands. He had sought direction from Terra and willingly or not she had given it to him. His mission was to help her.
He bound her hands and legs, returned the swords to their sheaths, and rounded up the two chocobos. He draped Terra across the back of her black bird and, with its reins in hand, mounted his own. His chocobo gave a meek protest Wark!
He gently stroked its feathers.
“I’m tired too friend, but Terra needs our help. We will rest in Tzen. I promise.”