Chapter 31

Edgar’s hand rested on the butt of his autocrossbow. Although he hadn’t used it in over a year, its familiar weight gave him some degree of comfort.

But only some.

Because of the danger they would encounter if the airship had hit one of the small, moving rifts which seemed to roam about the region, and for want of a decent landing place, Edgar had decided they should make the last leg of the journey on chocobo-back.

The tower had always been a dangerous place. Even with the power of esper magic, there had been several times when death had nearly found his companions and he en route to facing Kefka. Now...

Now, everything was still.

Except for the small band of Figaroans riding toward what Ghaleon insisted was the center of the rift.

He glanced to his side. Cyan was not as experienced a rider as Edgar, but he handled his chocobo with the same practiced skill he seemed to do everything else. Even so, Edgar could see his gloved hand clasped around the hilt of his katana.

“Not there,” Ghaleon snapped, “this way.”

Edgar’s glance shot to Ghaleon. The ‘court musician’ was riding in the lead of the party - a Figaroan soldier with an autocrossbow similar in design to Edgar’s right behind him. If Ghaleon tried to escape, he would not get far.

But Ghaleon’s temper, all the more fierce because it was always coupled with his cold expression, could escape at will. And often did.

Were I like Emperor Gestahl, Edgar thought, I would have cut his tongue out and had him gesture us to the rift.

Edgar allowed himself a rueful smile. Perhaps in this one case, the Vectran dictator had been the wiser.

Because Ghaleon had to lead them they did not travel as fast through the ruins as they otherwise would have. Whatever he might have been, he was no cavalryman. He was as uncomfortable with his chocobo as the bird was with him.

Which, of course, only made his ire greater. Cyan had truly instilled discipline in the Royal Guard, that the soldier who had to ride herd on Ghaleon had not ‘accidentally’ sent a bolt into his back.

Edgar did not like the ruins of Kefka’s tower any more than he had liked the place when it was intact. And if this time there was no raving god-man waiting at the summit, there was an enemy of sorts just as dangerous, and far less obvious.

He reigned in his chocobo somewhat, slowing it until he was alongside Terra. Why had he let her come to such a place again?

Because she would have come no matter what he’d said.

Better that he should be at her side when she did.

She looked over at him and smiled.

Despite everything around him, Edgar smiled back.

“Hold here,” Ghaleon said tersely.

Hold they did. Edgar could see no difference in the place Ghaleon had marked out, aside from the steep hill ahead. For a moment, he thought the former court musician had halted them only because he was afraid to trust his less-than-expert riding on the hill.

But Ghaleon turned his reluctant chocobo about and met Edgar’s eyes. “We have arrived.”

“Bring the relic forward,” Edgar called out. Two more soldiers, accompanied by Celes herself, did as commanded, placing the strange device on the makeshift tripod Edgar had had built for it.

Ghaleon dismounted, as did Celes and the soldiers with her. “I will need to aim the device myself,” Ghaleon explained.

“Very well,” Edgar said. He patted the butt of his autocrossbow once again, this time for Ghaleon’s benefit rather than his own. “Aim carefully.” Edgar did not need to add how carefully his own aim, or that of the Royal Guards, would be if Ghaleon thought to use the relic against his captors.

No doubt both meanings were perceived, but Ghaleon merely nodded to the overt one. “I shall,” he said.

Ghaleon had not been allowed near the relic except under guard, and then not for long. Edgar hoped that hadn’t been a mistake. Would he know how to operate it?

Apparently so.

Ghaleon shifted it on the tripod. He did so slowly after Edgar’s warning. The relic, which again reminded Edgar of a small magitech cannon, pointed up at the top of the hill.

Before they had left Figaro Castle, Edgar had discussed the final preparations with Ghaleon. One which he still did not understand, but which Ghaleon insisted was necessary, was the lighting of five large torches, meant to burn with as much smoke as possible.

“Now, perhaps you will tell us why these are necessary,” Edgar said as his soldiers lit the torches. It was as much curiosity as suspicion that led him to ask.

Ghaleon couldn’t risk sending him a glare, but he managed to pack the sentiment into a dismissive wave.

Edgar’s eyes followed Ghaleon’s arm, and he saw.

The thick, oily smoke rose into the air. There was little wind to push it about, so it drifted lazily upwards.

At first.

But as it neared the top of the hill, the smoke began to move as if of its own accord. It curled and twisted about until it reached a certain point - Edgar would have been hard pressed to mark it out clearly - and, with a final swirl, disappeared.

Into the rift.

“Do you see, Your Majesty?” Ghaleon asked.

“I do,” Edgar said. The smoke formed a visible, changing vortex. Although he had known the rift existed, known it was dangerous, seeing it like that - and imagining what it would do if it were one of them and not mere smoke passing through it - sent a shudder down his spine.

Ghaleon set to his work. Occasionally, he would snap an order to one of the soldiers by him. Although they were there more to keep him from escaping than to aid his work, they did as they were told.

The preparations took a long time, as Ghaleon checked range and distance with all the skill of a master artillerist. Perhaps, Edgar thought, he’d been one before Vector had recruited him into its scientific community.

If it really had.

Edgar flexed his fingers nervously. What was taking so long? Surely days had passed while they were sitting before the rift! But no, only a few minutes, if the movement of the sun was to be believed.

He felt Terra’s soft hand close around his. Unthinking, he gave it a gentle squeeze of reassurance.

But for once, even her presence did not divert his attention.

Ghaleon made one final correction in his aim and pulled the trigger.

Light poured from the relic’s muzzle, brighter than the sun Edgar had just been checking and far more focused than any magitech beam. It struck the rift dead center and...

Nothing.

Edgar felt Terra’s hand tighten, and knew his own would have done the same had he not forced himself to remain calm.

And then, the rift caught fire.

Edgar could think of no better way to describe it. Perhaps, though, it was not the rift but merely the smoke crackling about it which ignited, sending out glowing traces of light nearly as bright as the original shot from the relic.

The smoke around the rift swirled about more violently than it had before, lashing about as if it were caught in a storm. Figaro occasionally suffered from desert whirlwinds that could send walls of sand crashing against the castle’s stone - such force at least seemed to be at work on the smoke.

Edgar looked over at Terra. Her face was pale, but she was watching the display just as intently as he had been.

One of the beams of light which leapt amongst the smoke shot back down its length, hitting one of the torches and knocking it down with explosive force. Chocobos reared up, their normally docile nature disturbed by the unnatural events. Men were little more calm - Locke and several royal guards moved away from the torches in a withdrawal less than ordered.

“Is it working?” Edgar demanded, shouting to make his voice heard over the sound of the assaulted rift - with the chaos around him, he hadn’t even noticed the howling of the air as it was sucked ever more rapidly in.

“It is not,” Ghaleon said matter-of-factly. “As yet.”

Which was exactly what Edgar had feared. He spurred his mount forward until he was within more comfortable shouting distance of Ghaleon. “Will it work?”

“I do not believe so,” Ghaleon said. He seemed poised to say more, but before he could, his - and Edgar’s - attention was drawn by a second torch falling. Of this one there was little left. The beam of light which struck it nearly incinerated it.

And the smoke, although it was being drawn into the rift, still hung thick in the air. Realizing the danger, Edgar was about to call for a retreat.

And then he saw the figure moving up the hill.

“Terra!” he called, “what are you doing?”

“What I must do,” she said without stopping.

Edgar could barely hear her over the din, but he knew what she intended to do. No. Never that. He had sworn he would not let her try to seal the rift herself, not for all the world. He needed no oath upon the honor of past Kings to bind him to his course, but he’d taken one anyway.

“No!” he shouted, urging his chocobo forward. But the bird refused to go any closer to the rift, letting out a sharp “Wark!” of protest. Edgar swung from the saddle and raced after Terra.

By the time he caught up with her, she was already well past Ghaleon, Celes and the two soldiers.

She stopped. “Please, Edgar. I must do this. For all of us.” She raised her eyes to his. Her soft gaze had always been enough to make him do whatever she asked. “Please.”

Whatever she asked. Except this. “I won’t allow it, Terra. I-”

“Forbid it?” she asked. A sad smile crossed her lovely face. “You can’t. I am not a Figaroan citizen, you know.”

In the back of his mind, Edgar knew everyone was watching, waiting. He was the king. His duty must come first.

He didn’t care.

He pulled her into his arms. “A Figaroan Queen becomes a citizen by default.”

Her big green eyes welled up with tears. “I...”

“Terra, I love you,” Edgar whispered, kissing her.

“And I you, Edgar.” She gently pulled free of his arms. “Which is why I must go to save us all.”

Edgar fell to his knees. “Terra, you mustn’t,” he begged.

She shook her head. “I must.”

“Someone else would have words with that, I wager,” came a voice from behind Edgar. A voice he recognized, had expected - and had despaired of hearing in time.

Terra looked up in surprise, and Edgar tore his gaze away from her to look over his shoulder.

His guards and his friends, were no doubt as surprised as Terra - Cyan excepted, of course, for it was he who’d sent the request at Edgar’s bidding.

His coat flowing behind him, carefree grin in place despite the swirling rift behind Edgar and Terra, Setzer Gabianni strode toward them. “That was quite a show, Edgar,” he said with a wink. “I see now what it was all about, eh?”

Edgar didn’t grace the gambler with a reply - he was too glad to see him.

For perhaps the first time in his life, he was also glad to see the much shorter person who, as best her legs could carry her, had managed to catch up with Setzer.

“Relm?” Terra’s whispered question drew Edgar’s gaze back to her.

“You promised Strago you would take care of Relm,” Edgar said gently. “The best I can do is promise that, somehow, I will give you the chance. And that, if you like, I’ll help.”

Terra looked back to him.

Edgar rose to his feet and reached out to her.

And Relm darted past him, grabbing onto Terra’s leg with the irresistible force only a small child could muster.

Edgar met Terra’s eyes once again.

Behind him, he could hear a commotion as another of the torches fell. The rift, marked out by the flashing light and twisting smoke, loomed over them like an angry demon, hungry to sate its thirst with destruction.

Wordlessly, he took Terra in his arms again. She didn’t protest. Didn’t say she had to go.

Edgar could feel one of Relm’s arms shift to his leg. He could imagine the grin she would be wearing, and for once he thought she had more than a right to it.

He could only assume his smile was just as wide. And when he lifted Terra’s face to his, he saw hers was, as well.