Hybrid’s Other Half
Night fell over the square, but
brought no reprieve from the muggy air or biting insects. Relm’s
creatures slept. Some curled up into themselves like cats, others
slept standing in the manner of birds. They surrounded the captives.
Sabin made signs with his hands and uttered the magic syllables of Break for the dozenth time. For the dozenth time, nothing happened. The iron bars of the cage held firm. He had long since given up trying to bend the bars with his muscles. It had been hard for him to believe that the cage, sprung from a painting, would remain solid enough to hold him, but its reality had gradually convinced him. Funny, he mused, that Relm’s talent had never impressed him until he had found himself its target.
Something growled in the dark and clicked its teeth menacingly, disturbed by Sabin’s motion. Sabin gave up and sunk to the ground.
“Even if we could escape this prison we would be defenseless against these beasts,” Cyan pointed out.
Cyan sat cross legged, staring at the mansion Relm had disappeared into. The small two story house where she grew up sat dilapidated next door. No doubt she had resurrected the fire-ravaged mansion with a painting. “We have no choice but to turn Relm’s heart,” he continued.
Sabin nodded in the darkness. “No easy task. What do you think darkened her soul so much? The revelation that Shadow was her father, with all his attendant sins, or all the battles she fought? Strago was right to try to keep her away from the fighting. I hope, for his sake, that death is the true and final end so he can’t know the consequences of his failure.”
“Tis not the end. Thou know that as well as I. Furthremore, Strago did not fail. I prefer that thou not profane the dead with such accusations.”
Sabin raised his voice. “Why? Are you afraid I will speak poorly of you; you who are so eager to die?”
“Says he who seeks to remove the iron that separates us from a hundred claws and teeth.”
“At least I’m doing something! You’re just sitting there. I’ve yet to hear any ideas from you,” Sabin yelled angrily.
“I am thinking. Thou should try it. Thou might even find that thine actions thereby multiply in efficacy. All we can do is think about words to sway Relm. We may also hope that Terra is safe, that she will remember her true self and act accordingly.”
Sabin snarled, “What makes you so sure that her true self is the one we want her to remember?”
“Sir Sabin, dost thou abandon faith in friends so easily?”
“Recently my friends have given me little cause for faith. Terra and I spent a few nights in the ruins. We had time to talk. How much did she tell you about her time there?”
Sabin seemed to hear a smile in Cyan’s voice when the old knight replied, “She told me enough. She told me of a dream she had. She dreamt that her father was leading her into the mines of Narshe, but it was not her father. It was Kefka. She told me that he was taking her home and that home was the Esper world, which was, in the manner of dreams, concealed within the mine.”
“And that gives you hope?” Sabin asked incredulously.
A silence passed while Sabin mulled over the dream, which Terra had not confided in him. How could it be a hopeful thing? He finally gave up and muttered, “I still can’t believe Relm kept the head of the Goddess. Wouldn’t we have known?”
“I knew.” Terra’s voice emerged from the darkness loud and clear.
She dispelled the Invisibility she had wrapped about herself and materialized outside the cage. She was bruised and smudged with dirt. Nothing but green stubble covered her head, but she looked more alive than ever. She had recovered her swords which stuck out over each shoulder from the sheaths on her back. Pink flames licked at her skin, illuminating her.
Sabin and Cyan turned to her, paralyzed and speechless. Terra went on, “I had always suspected that we had been incomplete in our obliteration of magic. Relm probably saved my life by keeping the head. I should have died.”
Sabin peeled his eyes off Terra for a brief moment to survey Relm’s monsters scattered around the cage. He realized that Terra had cast a Sleep spell over them. Relm had no idea the power that was about to be unleashed. If Relm’s art formed an anchor for Goddess’s weakened power then the Esper / human hybrid that was Terra must be an even greater anchor, and now, in proximity to the statue, Terra’s full power manifested once more.
Terra closed her eyes. A satiated expression came over her face. “So close. I can feel Goddess’s presence! It is hidden nearby.”
“Terra,” Cyan spoke hesitantly, “remember thine true self.”
Her eyes flashed open. “My true self? You know nothing about my true self. You’re still trying to manipulate me, all of you. I’m sick of being other people’s weapon, other people’s hope. I’ll show you my true self.”
The pink flames ensconcing her arms flared. Sabin and Cyan fell back towards the opposite end of the cage as a fierce heat emanated from Terra. The flames glowed white hot. Terra’s clothes burned away instantly. The flames wrapped around her arms and legs, and grew out of her head into a bright mane. Her swords, suspended by magic, floated to her sides. Her face morphed: eyes enlarging and slanting, teeth lengthening into fangs. Then the heat vanished and only Terra the Esper remained.
Sabin cowered at the far end of the cage. Witnessing Terra’s original transformation, he had been stunned by surprise and then pity. Terra had frightened even herself then, unable to understand the changes taking hold of her. There was no fear in her now. That was reserved for Cyan and Sabin.
Terra flew towards the house where Relm had grown up, her aura alight with the vital orange of Haste. The earth shook. A fountain of dirt and debris erupted from the center of the house, it’s walls and roof flying away like playing cards. Terra flew to the top of the fountain and plucked from the detritus the head of Goddess.
Sabin and Cyan stepped from the hole that Terra’s transformation had melted though the cage and looked up at Terra holding Goddess aloft above a churning spire of earth. She screeched victoriously and launched into the sky.
They lingered with mouths agape, staring at the comet-like streak in the sky even as Terra’s Sleep spell broke. Relm’s monsters groggily stirred. Still neither man moved until a screech from Relm’s dwelling pierced the night, the cry opposing Terra’s elation with its rage and desperation. Sabin grabbed Cyan’s arm and they flung themselves madly into the dark jungle.
They sprinted with arms outstretched, slapping aside vines and leaves, and narrowly avoiding half-invisible trees. Cyan had shed his plate mail in the hot cage. Nonetheless, he could not match Sabin’s pace and he lagged behind.
Sabin doubled back. “You must hurry.”
“Leave me. I will delay them for thou.”
Already the sounds of snapping vines and angry beasts reached out through the forest.
“I will not leave you and I’ll have no more of this honorable death nonsense. Be a man! You are useless to me or anyone else if you die now.” And then, without thinking, Sabin slapped him.
Cyan roared in rage and Sabin, sensing he had crossed a line, darted further into the forest. Cyan charged after him with shouts of, “Coward! Come back and fight me!”
The light of dawn was spreading out across the sand as Sabin and then Cyan stumbled out onto the beach. The fleet, blessed sight, anchored off shore, but the beach was strangely deserted except for the scattered rowboats on which they had arrived.
Sabin shoved a rowboat into the water then leapt in. Cyan came running, red-faced and breathless. He stomped out into the water as the boat began to pull away. Sabin ran to the shore-end of the vessel. Cyan took a fatigued swing at Sabin’s face, but was thrown off balance as Sabin hefted him by the collar and dumped him aboard.
Sabin rowed with all his might. Monsters emerged from the trees and trumpeted at the sight of their quarry. The boat flew through the water with Sabin’s powerful strokes. They headed straight for a steam ship, one of the few in the fleet, but certainly the ablest to make a quick escape regardless of the wind. “Cyan,” Sabin breathed, “call out, huff, to weigh anchor!”
Cyan pushed himself upright and cupped a hand to his face. He took a deep breath then bellowed towards the steam ship, “Weeiiigghhh aaaannchhoooorrr.”
Sabin continued rowing, seeing only the growing swarms of horrors testing the water’s edge. Cyan’s face creased with frustration, then anger, “They do not respond, lazy, good for nothing, scoundrels!” Then abruptly, Cyan exclaimed, “Sabin, slow down!”
The rowboat crashed against the larger ship’s hull unseating Cyan and flinging him atop Sabin.
“Why didn’t you warn me sooner!” Sabin yelled, throwing Cyan off.
“Be silent and climb, thou uncouth gorilla,” Cyan shot back.
A thick-roped fish net had been draped down the side of the ship to allow soldiers to quickly disembark into the rowboats. Sabin grasped the netting and pulled himself up. Cyan followed slowly, every inch a colossal effort.
Sabin pulled himself over the gun rail and slipped in a puddle on the deck. He raised a bloody hand up to his face. The crew lay slaughtered around him, bodies littering the deck. Sabin growled with anger. How could Relm’s creatures have considered this self-defense?
Sabin leaned over the rail. “Cyan, hurry!”
Breathlessly, “What for? Command the men to set sail.”
Sabin did not respond but dashed to the windlass and began drawing the anchor up.
Sabin latched the anchor in place just as Cyan flopped over the gun rail.
“By Kefka! The crew.”
“No time for a funeral or it will be our own. Look out!”
Cyan dropped to the deck and an angry spear-bird sliced through the air. Sabin peered up at an entire flock circling above the ship’s smokestack.
“Follow me,” said Sabin, “we must get below deck.”
Sabin threw open a hatch and disappeared below deck. Cyan scrambled after him. Guided only by faint slanting light that slashed sidelong through portholes in the bulkhead they hurried through the ship’s bowels. They came to a dark room with big metallic shadows.
This is it, Sabin thought.
He began probing around the edges of the room, ignoring the grime his hands collected. Behind him came the scraping sound of a match being struck. A flickering glow filled the space.
“Sir Sabin, for what dost thou search?” Cyan asked, holding the match above his head. Sabin turned and grabbed the matchbox.
“These.” He extracted one, struck it. The faint light increased. The room was full of pipes, dials, and metal wheels. Cyan gasped.
“Look, I know you don’t like machines, so I’ll figure this out,” Sabin said, “head up top and steer the ship. Head east into the sun and watch out for those birds.”
“No, Sir Sabin. Thou mistake my emotion. This mechanism, I recognize it from my book, the Machinery Manual.”
Sabin gave a skeptical frown, but Cyan missed it entirely. He had already begun to open some valves and close others. Innards of the furnace began to glow with heat.
“Alright,” Sabin allowed, “I’ll steer.” Just as Sabin made to leave, the slanting sunlight vanished as if eclipsed by a large object. Something thudded against the hull causing the whole ship to lurch and tilt horribly.
“Get us moving. I’ll deal with this,” Sabin called over his shoulder. He retraced his steps, one foot on the floor and one foot on the wall as the ship was pulled starboard. He leapt the stairs three at a time to reclaim the top deck.
Overhead spear-birds circled, except that “overhead” was forty-five degrees off center. Sabin wedged himself in the hatch and looked across the slanting deck to where a profusion of purple tentacles was pulling up the massive slimy body attached to them. A round, purple head crested the side of the ship followed by a pair of rheumy yellow eyes and a comically-wide mouth braced with uncountable foot-long teeth.
Relm’s rendition of Ultros had only just flopped onto the deck when Sabin launched himself from the hatch. Poor child, Sabin thought sympathetically as he Blitzed the octopus, she always did like that monster.
With clear mind and perfect focus Sabin’s fist struck the creature between the eyes. It roared and flailed its tentacles but Sabin moved with blazing speed. Wavy heat shimmered in his wake. He wrapped his hands around a tentacle and twisted the squirmy limb. Then he bent the tentacle like a bow string and used it to launch himself for another strike, but Ultros batted him out of the air and he skidded across the deck.
Sabin picked himself up eager to fight this old nuisance. He began his fire dance Blitz, knowing how the octopus hated fire. Sabin dashed forward, avoiding the swinging tentacles, and moving with such speed that friction-tempted fire flickered in his wake. At the heart of the gathering fire Ultros writhed. Sea water sizzled on the skin of the monster and the blood on the deck boiled and popped angrily. Sabin was about to deliver the fatal blow when Ultros squealed and squirted ink in his eyes.
Sabin swung his fist blindly and stumbled as his hit struck only air. A wet tentacle slapped him upside the head and launched him against the ship’s railing. Sabin staggered to his feet. He kept his eyes closed and took a defensive posture. Then he waited. He didn’t have to wait long for the whistle of a large tentacle swinging through the air.
Using only the sound for guidance he adjusted his balance, caught the tentacle and snapped it like a whip.
“Seafood soup!” Ultros exclaimed when the shock hit him.
Sabin wiped the ink from his eyes just in time to see Ultros, filled with terror and perhaps some déjà vu, scramble away and pitch itself overboard into the sea.
Sabin allowed himself a brief smile. I’ve still got it. Then he went to the wheel and began turning it round to guide the ship’s bow out to sea. A spear bird made an attempt at his flesh, but he slapped it aside. It struck the deck, dying instantly. The other birds kept their distance.
Sabin cast a glance back at the beach. Long lines of monsters ambled out into the water and began to swim. It was hard to tell at such a distance, but he thought he saw Relm seated atop one such creature. The beach and the monsters disturbing the sea faded into the distance as the steam ship picked up speed.
When the Magic Isle had almost vanished below the horizon, Cyan emerged from below.
“She will never stop so long as she believes Terra and the statue are with us,” Cyan said.
“Relm is not the one we should be concerned about.”
“Terra is sane,” Cyan said confidently.
“And who’s to say the world was not better off in the hands of a madman?”