Terra leaned back against the thick trunk of the children's play tree and sighed. The makeshift swing rocked in the wind. Terra looked up to the sky then, eyes peering out at the bright stars floating in the night clouds. She had everything she could ever want in Mobliz: the children, her small, tightly-knit family; the neighboring villagers, with their happy smiles and caring conversations; and even the stray traveler to look in after.
So why did she feel as if she were missing something?
Terra looked back down to her hands. She couldn't even manage a small Fire. Did she truly need to, though? Wasn't the world a better place, despite the Merge? Truly, life had become simpler for the green-haired girl. Was it merely the itch for the uncommon that spurred her on, or..? No. She didn't crave adventure. The nightmares were getting worse. Kefka's laugh echoed through her subconscious with appalling ferocity. Lately, it was not one of the children that woke with bad dreams, but rather their guardian.
Was something creeping in the mist? Some creature or creation lurking in the dark? Or was she simply growing paranoid for lack of suspicious activity? That man was dead, the others safe. There was nothing to fear anymore, nothing to run from, and surely nothing to fight against.
“Fire,” Terra repeated, taking renewed interest in her efforts.
Flame exploded in front of Kaile, lighting the night in its orange glow. Everything faded to darkness again as the beast before him made another slash; he ducked, feeling its claws catch his jacket. He drew in a hissing breath as he heard the fabric tear. "Dammit! These uniforms aren't cheap, you know!" Swinging the long blade in his left hand up, he managed to strike the behemoth's underside, but this wasn't the variety he was used to. The blow didn't even pierce the skin.
He spared a glance behind and found his way unblocked, so covering his escape with another blinding Fire, he began to run. It was the only solution that came to him, though he hated himself for doing it. Combat specialist, that was his title within SeeD, so why was he fleeing like some scared little girl? He should've been able to hold his own! It didn't matter that the completion of his mission had left him exhausted, or that he'd been struck by a particularly nasty poison spell hours before that he was still recovering from, he was a fighter!
The series of deep cuts in his arm stung in protest to his logic, though, forcing him to concede that running was a very good idea. Heavy, crashing footfalls behind indicated that the behemoth still gave chase, leading him to exhale in a long, frustrated sigh. "Aaaah-- Give it up already!"
He glanced back, then as an idea came to him, grinned. A cool mist appeared just above the ground behind him, then without warning a wide patch of ice exploded into existence, coating the earth in front of his foe. The behemoth, running at the peak of its considerable speed, touched the ice and fell with a great crash and a roar of anger, and Kaile's satisfaction was clear on his face as he turned forward again, not slowing down.
Through the darkness, he managed to make out the shapes of buildings. A village? As he neared and better discerned its size and architecture, he was reminded strongly of Winhill, a feeling enhanced by the scent of flowers he caught in the air. But as he stepped inside, it became clear that the place was an unfamiliar one, one that had clearly seen hard times. He glanced back, but it seemed his opponent had ceased its chase.
He was glad that it had, because as much as he hated admitting it, he was exhausted. His arm was still bleeding, his breaths were still long and ragged from running so far, and his legs felt as though they couldn't take another step. How exactly was he supposed to report back to Garden like this? For that matter, how was he supposed to find Garden? It was normally easy enough to rendezvous with the flying academy, but his phone and only means of contacting them had been broken.
This was not his day.
In his distraction, he hadn't yet realized that there was a woman standing nearby. It took her voice, floating through the darkness, to draw his attention, and when it did he stopped abruptly, startled. But not moving had its side effects, and his legs that already felt so heavy gave out, leading to his abrupt and graceless crash to the ground.
"Sorry--" Ah, damn. He hadn't wanted to startle her. "Just a traveler, don't mind me..." For "just a traveler" he was quite the sight, with his hair a mess and his clothes torn and bloody, but he offered a disarming grin despite his appearance. "There...wouldn't happen to be an inn here, would there?"
There had been warmth that time, she knew it! Terra grinned at her accomplishments thus far, feeling quite satisfied with the change of results. However, it was physically draining to keep such trials up, and Terra wasn't certain she could try again that night. Rubbing her hands together to fight off the residual tingle of magic, she was so involved in her own triumphs that she hardly noticed the arrival of the young man. When he spoke, Terra jerked her head up in surprise. Her sight was hardly average in the dark, but she could make out wounds, for the wetness of the blood at the boy's arm glistened in the light of the moon.
She could also see he'd fallen.
“No, ah, no, it's all right. We're used to the occasional traveler, but I can't say many come this way looking as bad as you do. Are you all right? We don't have an inn, but you can stay at my home – I can't promise it'll be quiet, but it is peaceful.” Terra knelt down next to the man and extended her hand, returning his grin in fashion. “Terra, who are you?”
((All of my posts lately have been so craptastic. D: Sorry. ))
Well, she'd taken that better than expected. There were plenty of strong women at Garden, sure, but the average village girl didn't react to the sight of a weapon-carrying, bloody, completely disheveled stranger so calmly. A fighter herself, maybe? She didn't look it, but then he recalled her actions when he'd first noticed her; it seemed she'd been practicing a spell.
"Kaile." The grin was still on his face as he took her hand and pulled himself back to his feet. "And this" - he gestured to his arm - "is nothing. I've had worse from the Training Center." An exaggeration, but the T-Rexaurs were ferocious in their own right... "Anyway, your home? Are you sure? I could be a thief, y'know."
Even if he had been one, the statement was outlandish with his current state considered. He glanced around the little village, wondering just which of the buildings was Terra's home, noticing then just how small the place was. Small and quite run-down, it was evident even by moonlight. Sad-looking. A strange place to choose to live...but he didn't know her circumstances, and was certainly in no position to make judgments.
"Well then, if you're sure..." He made a gesture in no particular direction, "lead the way?"
He couldn't recall the last time he'd wanted a place to relax so badly.
Immediately upon entering the small home, Terra was greeted with a handful of wide-eyed faces staring down from the stairs. Grinning at the children, she made a shooing motion with her hands. “Come on, back to bed. You can stare at him tomorrow. Go on!” A onslaught of giggles followed, but the children did as they were told. Terra turned back to the young man and chuckled, “Sorry, they're a little too curious for their own good, sometimes. They don't mean any harm.” Taking up a bundle of blankets from the nearest wardrobe, she led Kaile to his new room. “If the room's too small, just tell me. We don't get that many guests – at least not many that aren't interested in adoption, and even then, they don't normally stay here. But, the sheets are clean, and you'll have privacy. If you'd like, I can get you a basin to clean up with, or something to eat.”
A small head popped out from the interior of the room. The blonde-headed child grinned up at the older pair, the small gap in her smile showing that she'd recently lost a baby tooth. Terra laughed softly at the sight and asked, “Jina, what are you still doing up? I thought I told you all to go to bed.” “I wanted to him! Are you shtaying here, mishter? You could be our Daddy!” “Jina!” Terra waved the girl off, “I've told you not to harass strangers. He's our guest, that's all.” “Oh. Sorry, Mama.” “Just get to bed, scamp,” Terra tousled the child's hair and scooted her on her way. Glancing up to Kaile, she grinned despite the flush in her face, “Sorry. Jina likes to ask that to everyone. Uhm. To women, too. I'm not sure she understands the difference.”
He hadn't been expecting anything in particular of Terra's home, but a gathering of children was definitely not something Kaile would've imagined, had he put any thought to it. She was much too young to be a mother to so many, though - so it was an orphanage? He had spent some time in one himself, before entering Garden. Too many children of his world had, thanks to the Sorceress War.
The memories were faint, being from so early in his childhood, but pleasant. The place gave him a mild sense of nostalgia, an odd but somehow comfortable feeling. "Don't worry about it." As he followed behind her, Kaile looked around, taking in all of the sights with a small smile. "Didn't expect this much, really, showing up in the middle of the night like this. Sorry," he added, scratching at the back of his head with his uninjured hand. "I know it's an inconvenience. But I appreciate it. And..." he glanced at his arm, "yeah, it'd be nice to clean up."
He didn't want to get blood on the clean sheets, after all. What kind of guest would that make him?
Kaile didn't notice the appearance of another child, at first. He barely glanced at the girl when Terra addressed her, he was so caught up in the unfamiliar surroundings, but her question and follow-up statement came through loud and clear. He couldn't help himself - he started laughing, hard enough that he had to grip the doorframe to steady himself. Kaile Vereil, playing babysitter to a bunch of kids? Oh, he'd make a fine self-defense teacher, but anything else?
The laughter didn't subside until the girl had run off, and even then, it was still on his face when he looked back to her "mama." He shook his head, the lingering tones of amusement coloring his voice when he spoke. "It's fine. She's just lonely, right? Place like this, no real parents, I can understand. She'll grow out of it."
He stepped around her and into his new room, giving it a quick glance-over before dropping unceremoniously to sit on the bed. Well, that was a considerably more comfortable landing than his last one. "You wouldn't happen to have any bandages, would you? I normally carry some for stuff like this, but...turns out they don't take well to getting hit with fire spells."
Wonderful example of a guest, wasn't he? But it couldn't be helped; he hadn't had a chance to restock his supplies.
Kaile's laugh was infectious enough, for Terra supplied one of her own. It felt good to hear another's voice (at least, another that wasn't still waiting for puberty). Occasional adoptive parents were all well and good, but when was the last time she'd entertained a guest? Khimari came to mind, but he'd never been one for long talks. If she was lucky, Kaile might stick around for longer than a night – assuming the children didn't scare him off with their hopeful name-calling.
“You're right about Jina, though – well, I hope you're right, at least. Not all of us grow out of the longing for family,” Terra replied as she knelt and went through the nightstand beside the man for the necessary requirements. With a houseful of children, one learned to keep bandages on hand in most rooms. “But, she's young, and kind, and smart enough that she's had more than one family want to take her in. Most of them have, truth be told.”
Between the knuckles of each finger, Terra displayed rounds of thick cloth. “Will these do? I'm not certain how bad the wound is. If you need more, I can bring them with the basi-” The green-haired girl paused, blanking on the word as she realized the implications of Kaile's comment. “Fire spells? You mean, you've dealt with them?”
As Terra busied herself at the drawers, Kaile pulled his jacket off, finally taking the opportunity to inspect his wounds. Behemoths were famous for their power, and the unfamiliar breed was no exception. The cuts were deep, and definitely not clean, leading Kaile to frown as he dulled the pain with a Cura spell. At least blades did their job efficiently, not messily.
"They'll be fine," he replied as he looked up. "Thanks." He reached to take the bandages, but stopped himself as Terra's speech died off. Dealt with fire spells? "Sure," he answered, confused. "I'm in SeeD. We use them all the time."
He pulled his outstretched hand back slightly, and as he did, a burst of flame appeared above it, dying off as quickly as it had come. "It's just para-magic. Anyone who can call a GF can---ah, nevermind, you've got no idea what I'm talking about." He laughed again, shaking his head. It was easy to forget that some people weren't from his world, knew nothing about the things that were commonplace for someone who had spent their life in Garden. "Anyway, what about them? Need fire for something? I could help, if you want. Least I can do."
“M-m-magic,” the emerald-haired girl said, eyes sparkling with amusement. She wasn't stuttering so much as remembering old friends – though it was doubtful anyone but her would realize this.
“SeeD?” Terra asked in a dull tone, obviously unaware of what such a title meant. “I, uh. Hm. You're right,” she laughed nervously, “I've no idea what you're talking about. I've never heard of a GF – what is it?” There was a small inkling in the back of her mind that told her she already knew. However, she thought it best to assume she was wrong and place herself in a position to learn.
“Mostly,” she added, quickly rising, only to look around the room for the washing basin, “I'm trying to relearn how to cast spells. Starting off simple is best, and aside from Cure, Fire was my best technique before the Restorati – before the Merge, to put it simply. To be honest, I'm half-hoping you can help. Aha!” Terra plucked the turned-over basin from the rather small closet. “I'll be right back – I'd rather not keep you going like this until after you've had a chance to clean up. What would the children think?” she said with a small giggle, leaving the man alone. –
It had taken some time before Terra returned to Kaile, for not only had she been required to work at the water pump outside, but she'd had to heat the kettle with a faulty stove. “Sorry,” she said by way of a returning greeting, “I didn't realize the pump needed repairing. Without Khimari on hand to help out around here anymore, I barely have time in the day to see to all of what needs doing. Or fixing. Or cleaning. Or – you get the idea.
“Anyway,” she continued, handing the man the washing basin and turning to leave, “I'll be in the kitchen. When you're ready, I'll heat up something for you. I don't know if this para-magic works the same way as magic did where I came from, but I could never pass up a good meal after exhausting myself.”
"It's...hard to explain," Kaile admitted in an amused tone, considering. To be honest, he wasn't entirely sure himself. Concentrations of energy? Wasn't that how they'd learned it in class? But Kaile was a fighter far more than a thinker, such tedious explanations were best left for someone like Suoh.
"GFs are creatures that Garden students and SeeDs used. It's called Junction, it's like connecting their consciousness to your own. They enhance your natural abilities, and they'll fight for you. Can't explain it any better than that, really." There, that was good enough. It was all he really knew, anyway - what did the specifics matter? They made him stronger, that was all he needed to know.
Before he could inquire about why Terra would have to relearn her spells, though, the woman had left. He thought over it while he waited: how could he help? Was para-magic similar enough to what someone like her could do? True magic was only wielded by the sorceresses, that was one thing he did know for sure, but that didn't seem to apply anymore. And para-magic could be used by someone without a GF, however limited...if nothing else, maybe he could teach her its use?
Doubtful. He wasn't the best when it came to magic himself. Well, he'd see what he could do, anyway; he couldn't expect to sit around in a free room and give nothing in return. Terra came back then, and he got up to take the basin from her, thanking her. "Don't worry about it," he called after her, but she was gone again too quickly. He doubted she'd even hear. Sigh. Well then, he'd just have to finish up before she got anything started.
A short while later, arm cleaned and properly bandaged, Kaile left his room and found his way to the kitchen. He leaned against the doorframe, looking in on his new hostess. "I don't need anything, y'know," he began. "Para-magic's not tiring. But what did you mean about relearning? You didn't just forget how to do it, did you?"
He couldn't figure out what to do for her if he didn't know what the problem was.
With a happy tune caught in her throat and vocalized in a hum, Terra looked as much the homemaker as any girl could while she reheated the vegetable soup from dinner. However, happy wasn't quite what she felt. As she stirred the large pot, she contemplated what Kaile had told her regarding GFs. Creatures that connected their consciousness to a human? That would lend their strengths and abilities? Her hand shook as it grasped the ladle. They sounded far too familiar. They sounded like esperkin.
Was it possible? Surely, there were enough other similarities to each world that she'd already seen – airships, piracy, the array of monsters, surely – but espers? Terra lowered her eyes to the steaming mixture before her and stared through it. She didn't know quite what to think about the information she'd gleaned. If they were, in fact, connected – however the case may be – wasn't that a good thing? And the rumors of the dead coming back to life... Wasn't that good? If Maduin had the chance to return - Terra cleared her throat abruptly and blinked several times when she heard the approach of footsteps.
“I'd hardly be a good hostess if I didn't try, at least,” she replied with a not-quite-sincere smile. She ladled the hearty soup into a shallow bowl before setting it on the table. “Besides,” she continued, “If you don't eat it, it'll just go toward fattening the kids, and then I'd be stuck with plump faces.”
Terra shifted a lock of green hair behind her ear and sat down. She glanced up at the young man and gave a humorless half-grin, “Even the short of it's too complicated. If word ever got out, I...” She rose suddenly, and fixated herself on taking the soup pot off the stove. “I'm comfortable here. I'm afraid if I let too much slip, I could lose that comfort. The villagers here are lovely, nice people – but there are things they don't bide well with. Magic's one. Before the Merge... Before the Merge, we had a man. I-I don't think evil quite describes him. He did things, and the people suffered. He and his people tried to use magic to destroy everything. He was defeated, but at the cost of the magic in the world. Anyone who had a gift in it lost it then.
“Ever since the Merge, I've been trying to get it back. I can't just go out into the open and practice, though – they'd riot. Even the children are afraid of it. But there's this feeling. Something's not right. Something feels off.”
Terra set the pot back into its chilling chest and finally allowed herself to look back at Kaile. “I'm rambling, and probably sound paranoid. But with the rumors going around, I can't help but feel like I should try to regain at least a flame.”
At first, Kaile didn't notice there was something off about that expression, or that the casual, light tone in her voice was fake. He took a seat, unable to deny the meal if she'd gone to so much trouble with it - and to be honest, he was hungry. But at the sudden change in her demeanor that accompanied her rise from the table, Kaile returned the spoon that he had just lifted to the bowl.
They were afraid of magic? It sounded too familiar. The way sorceresses were treated...people feared and hated them, without knowing a thing about them. All because of the Sorceress War. All because that one woman had used her own powers for the wrong reasons. Kaile had never feared them, though, not even knowing that his parents were killed in the war. Blaming all of them for the faults of a few, what would that accomplish? And looking at Terra, even if they'd just met, it was obvious that she couldn't have been a kinder person. She'd brought in a complete stranger, after all.
When she finished speaking, he was uncharacteristically quiet. He stood up, thinking, then approached her, stopping not far back. "You don't," he returned, expression somewhat dark as he considered what to do. "Where I come from, there are these women called sorceresses. They're the only ones who can use true magic, and a few of them decided to use it for...the wrong reasons. One started a war, and a lot of people died. And then, a while before the Merge...I was just a student then, so I didn't get to know all the details, but there was another who did the same. She tried to destroy everything, everything that ever was, except herself. I think if I'd been there to see that, I'd feel the same as you."
He let out a long, sighing breath, turning to lean against the table. "So I'd say you should try until you get it. Anyway, the people here know you, right? They can't put you in the same category as him just because of what you can do.
Aaaah---" he straightened again, swinging his arms in an attempt to get rid of the weighty thoughts, "I'm no good with stuff like this. I need to be doing something. Come on, let me see what you can do."
It did Terra's mind and heart good to see that Kaile understood at least some of where she was coming from. However, she was certain he wouldn't quite grasp her understanding of the village – or its people – until he'd had a better chance at learning the region and what it used to hold. “Erm,” she stated without a sure sense of what to do, “I'm not really certain it's best to do this inside. The field's slightly better – there's enough land around, no one will be able to see what's being done this late at night.” Without waiting for the boy, she led the way. She wasn't about to let one of the children see either of them attempt a mage's work if she could help it. –
In the fields, Terra turned to face Kaile. She slipped her hands upward and wound them in a spherical stance, arms straight at the ends. She focused all of her concentration to her palms. Though they began to itch and warm, little else produced. “Mmf,” Terra grunted in disgust, “This is it. A year of trying, and this is the best I can do. Nevermind a Cure, or something more major...” –
From inside the tiny house, small voices whispered back and forth. “D'you think Mama meant it?” a young boy asked. “Meant what?” an older girl replied. “That she could use the M word!” Another voice spoke up. “Oh... Mama doesn't lie.” Yet another child. “She could be joking!” “Would she? “But she's not bad!” “Not our Mama!” More voices than one could easily count lent their sounds to the ruckus.
Kaile frowned, though the darkness made it difficult to see. That was all she could do? Not so much as a spark? But if she said she was capable of magic, he believed her - it just meant they had a lot of work ahead of them. Where to begin, though? The working of para-magic was different from real magic. He didn't even know if it would make a rough basis to build on.
But it was better than nothing, and it was all they had - it would have to be good enough.
"I want to try something," he told her after a long moment of thought. "I don't know if this'll even work, but..." Well, what would it hurt to try? He stepped closer, then took hold of her hand, holding it out in front of the both of them. Para-magic's basis was on the ability to draw it, from the earth or from something living, and then channel it into use. Terra had no knowledge of how to do it, but Kaile hoped that, with his own skill with it, he could transfer his own magic to her. A reverse draw - he'd never even heard of it before, but the principle of it was the same.
More or less.
Putting too much thought into something wasn't Kaile's style, though, so without any more consideration, he began to focus the magic into his hand. Transfer it. Just transfer it. And don't burn her instead.
He could feel the magic collecting; if he let it keep going, it would turn to flame. He'd have to just do it. With a mental push, he attempted to transfer the spell; for a brief instant he wasn't sure if it had worked, but then a blast of fire appeared in the air. Over her hand, not his. Grinning with the success, he let go, and laughed in triumph.
"There! See? I know it's not the same, but it worked. Could you feel it? Maybe it'll remind you what your own should feel like. C'mon! Try again, try again!"
Enthusiasm, at least, was something he had in excess. If only optimism was the only fuel she needed to work her own magic, she could've called forth a Flare then and there.
Terra frowned, squinting in the dark to get a better look at Kaile's face as he approached her. When fighters said they had good ideas, it never boded well for the mages – that much she could recall. Though concern dotted her features in a creased brown and down-turned lips, Terra obliged the man and held her hand out.
The moment he tested his theory, Terra was aware. There was the heat from the building flame, the sift from her inner reserves that longed for the magic to release, and the sudden, quiet peace that came with the spell. Then, of course, there was the flash of orange light and the too-hot-to-bear sensation across her palm. “Ah!” she cried, in an equal mixture of pain and surprise. She rubbed at her hand and scowled at where the flame had once been.
However, the minute she realized what had been accomplished, her lips broke into a hearty grin and she looked up to Kaile with a gleam in her eyes. “That – what did you do? How did you do – what was that? It wasn't like my own, but it was. It... It felt more real than I thought it would. But that doesn't make sense, does it?” Terra paused, glancing down at her hands.
“This para-magic... You said before that 'anyone who can call a GF can use it,' right? How do you call one? How do you meet one? And... why do they agree to help you?” She sat down on the ground, legs in a cross. Looking up at the boy, she gave a tired smile. "Sorry. I don't want to risk another shot if I can't handle it properly. At least not so soon after the first try, anyway." Besides, she added privately, it seemed her mind was more tuned to talking than training.