Chapter 8 - Off to see the Witch
The tower was visible on the horizon even from within the city limits, where Jeane and Traysia bid us goodbye. Jeane even gave Terry a kiss, which sent Traysia giggling and me looking respectfully away.
“Be careful, okay?” Jeane said. rubbing the cheek of Terry’s helmet. “Come back safe.”
“I will.” He promised, his gauntlet-covered hand engulfing hers.
Even from so far away, I could tell it was a massive construct that stretched high into the distant clouds, seemingly needle-thin from our perspective. That worried me; after all, we’d likely have to climb the tower at some point.
“Now, now.” I chided myself. “Let’s just get there first.”
I glanced back at Terry. “Hmm? Oh, nothing. Just talking to myself. Trying to figure out this whole witch thing.”
“I know what you mean, sir. The idea of a witch hunt in this day and age seems preposterous. Y’know, my mother’s a good sorceress.”
“Really? I didn’t know that. Sorcery … that’s the magical study of enchantments, right?”
“Enchantments and incantations. She dabbled a little in witchcraft, but only for brewing potions. Our town doesn’t have a healer, so she pretty much had to fill in the gap herself. Well, her, and this crotchety old Idestan we used to call Sniffles.”
“Sniffles?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
Terry chuckled. “Yeah. He was always banging on about being this super powerful magi and the best healer in his field, yet he always seemed to have a cold.”
We laughed at the inept idestan healer as we continued trodding down the road.
“There’s one thing that confuses me, sir.” Terry asked a short while later. “What’s the deal with Arc?”
“I must confess, I’m a bit worried about that myself.” I let out a sigh. “I want to think there’s a reason he stole our floater and riled up a town against both me and a witch who may or may not be innocent.”
“Yeah about that; aren’t we far enough from town for you to switch back to your normal clothes?”
I looked down at the ridiculous ‘adventurer’ garb that I was still wearing. “That’s just it; what if Arc’s telling everyone I’m a demon? What if he actually told the witch? This costume may be silly, but at least people won’t blast me on the spot for wearing it.”
We continued walking along the dirt road for a few hours. It’s strange that Wenapaj was a neighboring country of Rimstak, arguably the most technologically advanced nation on Vinta, yet there we were walking down a dirt and stone path. No gas stations or strip malls that pretty much lined the interstates and highways, no cluttered living areas like in Rimstak; only sweeping plains, clear skies, and a few trees.
The trees turned out handy, as the skies were filled with dark clouds as night approached. Fortunately, a branch in the hiking path passed through a small forest. We had to backtrack about ten minutes, but at least we were able to get some shelter from the rain.
Terry and I sat on opposite sides of the same oak tree. We were well within the woods, so very little water actually made it through the dense canopy of leaves. Still, it was damp enough to make it hard to sleep.
“Hey, Terry.” I said, glancing back. “You awake, man?”
A loud snore answered me. Chuckling, I said, “Guess that armor’s good for something, eh?”
I listened to the rain, my mind wandering back to the subject of the witch. Occasionally I caught a glimpse of the tower as the wind blew through the leaves. It was a foreboding sight, even more so now that it was so close.
“What am I doing?” I asked no one in particular. “I mean, a witch? Seriously? It was pure luck that I managed to stop the dragon.”
“You’re being a bit harsh, aren’t you?”
I sat up hurriedly. To my surprise and confusion, another me walked around the tree.
He was like me in almost every respect; his face, his build, even his grey eyes. The only difference was that his hakama and keikogi were snow-white.
I was on my feet, sword raised, in a matter of seconds. “Who are you?”
He chuckled and pointed back at the tree. “I’m you, of course. See?”
Careful to keep him in my vision, I slowly edged my head to the side so I could see the tree. To my surprise, I saw yet another me, this one lying against the tree with his eyes closed.
“I’m … dreaming?” I asked, lowering my blade.
The me in white nodded. “About time too, not that I can blame you in this weather.”
Sighing, I sheathed Glint. “I suppose you represent some aspect of my subconscious? From the white clothes, I’m imagining you’re the ‘good’ me.”
“I’m hardly the angel on your shoulder. Still, if it makes this easier, consider me the rational part of your mind.”
I let out a laugh. “I thought you would’ve taken off years ago.”
He chuckled appreciatively. “Wenapaj certainly keeps us on our toes, doesn’t it?”
He snapped his fingers. Seconds later, two bamboo training swords appeared in the air between us.
“What is this?” I asked him, Glint vanishing from my side as I took a blade for myself.
“Just a friendly sparring match. We think better when we’re active, don’t you agree?”
I shrugged, saying, “Okay. I don’t suppose you’ll go easy on me?”
He chuckled. “We always were an optimist.”
We raised the practice swords and bowed our heads respectively before stepping back in unison. I kept my eyes locked on my opponent as we slowly circled each other.
“So, this witch,” I said calmly, as though we were discussing this over coffee, “what do you really make of it?”
“You don’t want to talk about the witch, Jimmy; you’ve been talking about her with Terry all day already.”
I barely managed to leap out of reach as he lunged forward. As he fell back into a defensive posture, I asked, “Then what do I want to talk about?”
“The one thing you really care about. The one thing that’s been stuck in your thoughts since the last night you spent in the castle.”
“Terra.” I took a swing at him, but he sidestepped and countered with a slash of his own that caught me in the back of the leg.
The impact of the bamboo caused no damage, but it sure stung like hell. I ignored the instinct to rub the rapidly-forming bruise, as I could tell by the look in his eyes that he wouldn’t let the opening pass by him.
“I miss her.” I told him as we circled each other again. “The memories she shares with me are nice, but I wish she was around more. I want to talk to her, not get her past in my dreams.”
He lunged again, but this time I was ready for him. I dodged his swing and gave him a sharp smack on the side of his arm. He winced in pain, but quickly fell into a defensive posture so I couldn’t hit him again without compromising myself.
“You raise a good point. What do we really know about her?” He asked. “She’s been quite secretive about her more recent past considering that she’s considering us as her life mate.”
“Not surprising. She is fional.”
Our blades met with a sharp ‘twack’. We both pressed for advantage for a moment before it occurred to me that our strength was quite literally matched. I fell back abruptly, causing him to stumble forward. Unfortunately, he recovered too quickly for me to press the advantage.
“It’s not like she hasn’t shared anything with me; she’s one of the Queen’s Shadows.” I continued. “Her Mother’s part of the Longshore Border Patrol, and her father’s a member of the royal guard.”
“Do you think we know him?” He asked, taking a few easily countered swings at me.
I shook my head. “I don’t know; she’s the only fional I’ve seen in the Royal Guard. Still, it’s not like I’ve been in a position to know them all by heart.”
“True enough.” He went for an overhead slash, a clumsy move … or so I thought. I dodged to the side before I realized that he was still swinging around. I tried to bring my sword up in time, but he gave me a good whack on the shoulder.
“Ugh.” I muttered, rubbing my stinging shoulder. “I was careless.”
“Indeed. Fortunately, you have me to catch little things like that.” He stepped back, lowering his sword slightly. “That’s why I brought Terra up.”
I frowned at him. “You think something’s wrong with her?”
“You tell me. She follows you for Creator knows how long, corners you and forms a partial bond, spies on you under the guise of Terry, then hides from you and your friends? Her appearances were so erratic that you were convinced she was a manifestation of your insanity. She wasn’t even there to help with the dragon, Jimmy!”
“She’s just a bit over-cautious.” I replied, a slight sweat on my brow; I couldn’t tell if he was getting faster, or if I was just getting tired. Either way, he managed to give me a slap on the back with his sword.
He stared straight at me. “Are you sure about your feelings for her?”
“I don’t understand.”
He whacked me on the back again, making me cry out this time. “You say you love her, you care for her, but what do you know about her? We’ve been lonely for a long time, Jimmy. Are we giving in to her because we truly like her, or because we just want someone to fill the emptiness?”
He swung again; I tried to dodge, but he was just too fast; again the sword stung against my back.
“Enough.” I told him, raising my hand.
Lowering his blade, he said, “You still haven’t answered my question. Why do we love her when we know so little about her?”
I looked him in the eyes. “It wasn’t the kiss at Natalya.”
He seemed genuinely surprised by my response. “Then what?”
“Remember when we saw her before? After we comforted Princess Zelda? She was watching us.”
He lowered his eyes. “Yes, I remember.”
“Then you remember feeling the same thing.” I sighed as I stuck my sword into the ground. “I don’t know about the bonding thing; all that mess with pheromones and flux imprinting is beyond me. All I know is that I saw something in her eyes that night, something that made me feel warm … special. All I know is that in that moment, I knew that I wanted to be with her forever. It may not make any sense, but-”
“-but love seldom does.” He let out a sigh. “I understand completely. I’m supposed to be the rational part of you, and even I’ve grown accustomed to her being around.”
Seeing my confused expression, he grinned. “I’ll show you.”
He led me out of the forest, the trees rushing past us in a matter of seconds despite the fact we were only walking. The Saybaro lay inexplicably beyond.
To my surprise, Terra was sitting on my bridge, her arm wrapped around one of the faded white support posts. Her toes grazed the surface of the river as she sat there, humming an eerily familiar melody.
“I don’t understand.” I began.
“This is your dream, remember? I am your rational mind, and she represents the part of Terra that is within you because of the bond. What represents the whole of who and what you are more than the Saybaro?”
“I guess you’re right.” I turned back to watch Terra lay back against the bridge and stare up at the twilight sky. “How long has she been here?”
“Since that night in the palace. I thought she was just a wisp at first, but she’s been a bit less flighty since the whole ‘dragon’ thing.”
Seeing her made me realize just how much I missed her. “Can … can I talk to her?”
“Sure thing. Just don’t forget to stop by later, okay? We’ve got much more sparring to do.”
I woke up back in the forest, Terry still snoring on the other side of the tree. The forest had shielded us from most of the rain, though I did have to wipe off a few leaves.
I was about to wake Terry when I heard someone behind me ask, “Excuse me, sir; have you seen a swordsman wearing all black pass through here? Tow-headed, but with deeply tanned skin?”
I glanced back and immediately felt my heart leap into my throat.
It was Terra, carrying a wide umbrella. She was wearing the cute little tank-top and daisy-dukes number she had worn the first time I saw her back in the streets of Iniagusville. Her spurs, small energy pistols that could be converted into short energy blades at a moment’s notice, were strapped to her belt on either side of her shapely waist.
“Sir? I’m sorry; I didn’t wake you, did I?” She flashed me a kind smile. “I wouldn’t have bothered you, but … well, he’s my bondmate, and I’m worried about him. Been trying to catch up with him for a few days now.”
As she continued to look at me curiously, I realized she didn’t recognize me, small surprise considering my clothing and dyed hair. I’m sad to say that all I could do was stare. Maybe it was because it had been so long, but she just seemed so beautiful.
“Are you okay? I didn’t mean to …” She stopped abruptly, recognition and disbelief slowly showing in her eyes. “Jimmy?”
I nodded, feeling no small amount of embarrassment from my current appearance. “Yeah, it’s me.”
She gawked at my clothing for a few minutes, my cheeks growing more and more hot by the moment. I could tell she was trying hard not to laugh. “What … what are you doing wearing that stuff?”
“It’s a long story.” I fidgeted uncomfortably; as happy as I was to see her, I hated that she had to see me in such a ridiculous disguise.
“So I’ve heard.” Smiling kindly, she put her arms around me and gave me a kiss. “Well, I love you even if you are a demon.”
“Even if I’m a tickle demon?”
“What?” She managed to ask mere moments before my hands sought out her weak spots.
In seconds she was on the ground, squirming and giggling uncontrollably under my assault. She turned the tables on me, only for me to renew the attack. We eventually stopped, both still giggling and out of breath as we lay beneath the tree.
“You know, I was really worried when I found your message at the Saybaro.” She said, her fingers interlacing with my own.
“I wasn’t exactly expecting this trip.” I told her. “I’ve had some difficulties with the Elsewhere.”
“Yes, I heard about the One doll.” Seeing my questioning expression, she said, “I overheard Mick and Meryli talking with One while I was at the Saybaro.”
“Are they with you?”
Terra shook her head. “One … the real One advised them to stay put until he could figure out what was going on with the doll. You do have it with you, right?”
I pulled the doll from my pack and held it out to her. She took the doll and turned it over in her hands a few times, her eyes scanning over every inch of it.
“I’d say it was nuts if One hadn’t told me himself.” She admitted, fussing with the doll’s unkempt hair. “Does he have any idea yet about who was using it?”
“Not yet.” I admitted, “But One said he’d figure out what it was, and he never breaks his promises.”
“Yeah,” She said, smiling at me, “I know.”
She started to kiss me again when the doll said, “Well, it’s nice that you still have a little trust in me.”
I was used to this sort of thing by now, but Terra was shocked. She just sat there, staring openmouthed at the plush toy.
One tried and failed to pull himself from her grip. Sighing, he asked her, “Could you let me go, miss? It feels odd to be held up like this.”
“Oh!” She dropped the doll, which landed face-first on the wet ground with a loud “Ow!”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” She put the tips of her hands to her mouth, her cheeks blushing through her white fur.
“S’alright.” One said, standing up shakily, “I’ve been through worse.”
Feeling it polite to introduce her, I said, “One, this is Terra.”
“Terra Branford.” She finished, tentatively shaking the plush doll’s tiny outstretched hand.
He smirked. “Nice to meet you. It’s good to know I’m not the only Final Fantasy fan. In any case, we’re still having trouble tracking down who was using the doll. Whoever it was covered their tracks well … and all for a cheeseburger. Still, I know a few Dreamers who would play this kind of trick; it’s just a matter of getting them to admit it. Anyway, any luck on the witch thing, Jimmy?”
“Not yet.” I said, “We’re still on the way.”
“Well, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you to be careful. If this witch thing turns out to be serious, use your best judgment before getting too involved.”
I nodded, saying, “Of course. I’m not out to throw my life away.”
“Also, keep in mind that whoever was playing around with this doll might still have a way of causing more mischief. If it behaves oddly, it’s probably best not to listen to it.”
“What if it does anything dangerous?” I asked, thinking of how the doll half-choking the poor restaurant attendant.
“I doubt any Dreamer’s truly that malicious. Still, best to be cautious for now. If I can’t figure out what’s going on, and something else happens, we’ll just have to try something else.”
The One doll slumped back to the wet ground. As I picked up the doll to put it in my pack, Terra commented, “He wasn’t quite what I was expecting.”
“Tell me about it.”