Thursday, May 26, 2011

Final Fantasy VI Prologue

This is a novelized version of the introductory scenes of the video game Final Fantasy VI. I found myself wondering what the story would be like if it were in book form. So I took the opening scene and wrote it out.

I did it all over a weekend, so it's probably got lots of errors and stuff. Doesn't matter, that was never the point. I just wanted to add another dimension to the story. I think I succeeded :)

Oh, and for you purists - yes, I did change some things. For example, "We'll approach from the south" was originally "We'll approach from the east." But when you play the game, the only way in and out of Narshe (and the way the soldiers used) is from the south.

Enjoy and comment!

Long ago, the War of the Magi reduced the world to a scorched wasteland, and magic simply ceased to exist.

One thousand years have passed. Iron, gunpowder and steam engines have been rediscovered, and high technology reigns. But there are those who would enslave the world by reviving the dreaded destructive power known as "magic."

Can it be that those in power are on the verge of repeating a senseless and deadly mistake?

It started, as so many tales have, on a cold night. Snow rarely fell south of the mountains, but in Narshe, it was always winter. The cliff sides faced away from the sun's daily arc, far above the desert lands of Figaro. The constant chill served as a ward against those who might otherwise perceive Narshe to be a cozy community for retirement or raising children. People didn't come to Narshe to live. They came to work.

And work was abundant. Many recent industrial advances had come from Narshe. For a time, it seemed as though every able-bodied man was uprooting his family and marching north. Miners, in particular, were plentiful. Narshe's mines dove deep into the mountains and had provided an abundance of resources to feed the technological boom. The network of tunnels expanded every day, providing work for just about any man strong enough to swing a pickax. And with so many of them working side by side every day, it was only a matter of time before they unearthed something far more precious than any stone or jewel.

It was a discovery that immediately caught the attention of Emperor Gestahl himself.

Cold wind rushed through the valley just south of Narshe's entrance. It was the kind of cold that made faces raw and bones numb. The mountains usually kept the stronger gusts from reaching the worn path, but this wind was persistent. And it was gaining in strength. Snow fell, lightly at first before gaining in both strength and density. Soft thunder rolled between the clouds.

A storm was coming.

On a precipice just south of Narshe where the path split to form a small plateau, Vicks and Wedge took a moment to survey the area. They'd thus far seen nothing unusual during their journey, but the nature of their mission led Vicks to believe that would soon change. His dark eyes scanned the snow-covered path ahead before coming to rest on the glowing lights of Narshe on the distant mountainside. "There's the town," he said softly, gripping the control sticks of his Magitek armor.

Wedge moved beside him, the mechanical feet of his Magitek unit stomping heavy holes in the snow. "Hard to believe an Esper's been found there one thousand years after the War of the Magi."

Another set of iron feet shifted behind Vicks. He didn't want to acknowledge the presence of their third member, but he knew that sooner or later, he would have no choice. She was assigned to accompany them for a purpose, he knew. But that was all he knew. A new recruit? A spy? Were his loyalties to the Empire in question? Or was the woman really just a puppet as Kefka had claimed? Whatever the truth, the rumors about her . . . abilities . . . didn't sit well with Vicks. The less interaction he had with her, he thought, the better. Then again, perhaps ignoring her would give her the chance to catch him off-guard.

He shook his head and wiped the snow from his helmet's brim. Best not to continue with that train of thought. "Think it's still alive?" he asked, returning his attention to Narshe.

Wedge shrugged. "Probably, judging from the urgency of our orders."

But the more Vicks tried not to think about her, the more he could feel her eyes at his back, burning a hole through his skull. He had avoided the subject during the entire journey from Vector, but now that they faced their objective, the woman's purpose was likely to become clear sooner rather than later. If, by chance, Wedge knew anything about her . . . Well, it couldn't hurt to ask.

Rotating the two steel control sticks, Vicks brought his Magitek armor around to face their pale-skinned companion. "And this woman, this . . . sorceress . . . What's she doing here? I heard she fried fifty of our Magitek armored soldiers in under three minutes."

Wedge grinned, stomping big prints in the snow as he lumbered over to her side. "Not to worry," he said, pointing to the twisted metal bands circling her head. Another thing that made Vicks shudder. "The slave crown on her head robs her of conscious thought. She'll follow orders."

That wasn't an answer, Vicks noticed. If Wedge knew anything of her identity or purpose, he didn't seem eager to share. Instead, he headed past both of them and down toward the main path to Narshe. "We'll approach from the south. Move out!"

A long trail of mist streamed from Vicks' nostrils as he sighed. Regardless of his concerns, he wasn't about to disobey an order from his superior. The only thing he could do was follow and pray that what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him.

Had they traveled from the capital on foot, they'd surely have made camp on that hill. Not even the biggest fool in Vector would attempt to travel through that dark valley during a snowstorm. With visibility dramatically reduced by both the darkness and the snow, predators could be upon the party before their pistols had left their holsters. A soldier knee-deep in snow couldn't move with any amount of agility, and hidden boulders and dips in the path buried well below the snowdrifts could break ankles or even swallow an unsuspecting soldier.

But with the Magitek armor to carry them, such concerns were, quite literally, beneath them. The Empire's mechanized bi-pedal armor units were hailed as one of the best inventions to come out of the research facility in years. Armed with the latest in Magitek weaponry and plated with heavy iron for added protection, the mechs had a tremendous impact on both the role and the effectiveness of the traditional soldier. A single man could calm a riot, crush a blockade, or level and entire battalion. In addition, the units were able to carry a soldier across great distances faster and safer than ever before possible. For a man, walking along that snowy road to Narshe would've been a brutal and exhausting experience. But the mechs plowed through the snow with ease while onboard scanning units watched for predators and other dangers that might pose a threat.

"Still, even with all this technology, they still couldn't build a canopy to protect us from the elements," Vicks muttered, brushing snow from his mech's control console. "Unbelievable."

Wedge, who had taken point, looked back at him. "Why, are you cold?"

Despite the weather, Vicks was actually quite comfortable. The heavy brown uniforms they wore were well-insulated. "No," he answered, shaking his head. As he did, his eyes came to rest on the woman. She marched along beside them in silence, her eyes fixed forward as though she could already see the Esper ahead. Unlike them, she only wore a simple dress of pink that ended just above her knees. Vicks almost shivered as the wind blew through her long blond ponytail. "I bet she is, though."

Wedge looked back at her before shrugging. "Not our problem. You heard what Sir Kefka said. She'll do her job whether she's comfortable or not."

It didn't quite seem right to Vicks, but he was a mere soldier. He didn't know everything about His Excellency's plans or what kind of crimes this girl might have committed. Perhaps it was her punishment for what she'd done to the other Magitek soldiers . . . if the rumors were true.

The snow was already slowing when they reached the base of the hills where Narshe was located. By the time they arrived in town, it had stopped completely. Vicks couldn't help but feel a bit anxious. While the leaders of Narshe had yet to formally sever ties with the Empire, they had made their dissent known on numerous occasions. Emperor Gestahl's methods were not popular here, and it was likely that the people would be displeased with the idea of three Magitek soldiers entering their city to take possession of their latest archeological find. But the Empire was Narshe's biggest financial backer; an estimated eighty percent of minerals gathered from the mines were purchased by the scientists at the Magitek Research Facility. In short, if Narshe wanted to prevent the collapse of their economy, they'd have to hand over the Esper.

At the towering archway that served as Narshe's entrance, Wedge came to a stop. Vicks and the woman followed suit. "Let's put her on point," Wedge said, positioning his mech behind hers. "No sense in taking any risks. Forward!"

Without question, the woman took the lead, and Vicks and Wedge followed her into the town. The first thing Vicks noticed was the lack of activity. True, it was a good deal past dusk, but there wasn't a soul to be found on the paths, and no light shone from any window.

As if to answer his thoughts, Wedge spoke. "Lookouts must have seen our approach and told the people to take shelter."

"Fine by me," Vicks responded as they marched northward. "I had expected we'd have to argue with local security forces over this whole thing. The easier they make this for us, the better it will be for everyone involved."

In his travels around the world, Vicks had never had occasion to stop in Narshe. It was a primitive little down despite its flourishing economy. He had expected large mansions and cobblestone streets, but the brick-and-mortar homes were no more impressive than anything that could be found in South Figaro. Oil lanterns on tall iron poles lined the paths that twisted around each building, and large staircases of wood led to structures built into the higher elevations. Some of the town's layout seemed a bit haphazard, but there was little doubt that the aesthetics had been sacrificed due to the formation of the mountainside. Odd hills and cliffs and valleys had apparently forced some creative choices for construction. Though some homes were level with the ground, there were others that were build almost entirely on wooden scaffolds to compensate for uneven land. Then there were structures that seemed to be built right into the cliffsides with only a single staircase erected to provide access. How or why they managed to construct such a thing was beyond Vicks imagination.

Wedge's voice pulled Vicks away from his thoughts. "Narshe's mines are located at the northernmost part of the town. If we keep heading-"

He was interrupted as a pair of soldiers dressed in old blue robes stepped onto the path about ten paces ahead of them. They were lanky men carrying primitive weapons. No match for the mechs, but Vicks clung to hope that they might be willing to negotiate.

His hopes were dashed in an instant. "Imperial Magitek armor?" one of the soldiers yelled, hoisting his sword. "Not even Narshe is safe anymore!"

Their charge was ended just as quickly as it had begun. A deafening crackle pierced the air as a scorching beam of fiery light shot forth from the chest cannon of the woman's Magitek unit. The blast sent their bodies sailing through the air. One man came down hard on the rooftop of a house, his body rolling and sliding downward before falling to a smoldering heap on the ground below. His partner crashed down beside him, smoke rising from his charred remains. Neither man so much as twitched.

"Serves 'em right," Wedge said with a grin.

Vicks shook his head. "Let's keep moving."

The trio marched past the fallen men and continued northward. Despite the fact that he was an imperial soldier, Vicks didn't like violence. He'd joined the military to help people and preserve peace. But lately, he'd found himself questioning his purpose. Much of that had to do with the Empire's apparent motives. More and more, the word "magic" had been making the rounds amongst the troops, and Vicks didn't like it. The stories of the ancient War of the Magi should've served as warning to anyone who might decide to purse such power. If that was the Emperor's goal . . .

No, it couldn't be. His Excellency was far too wise for that. Perhaps he learned of others who sought the power and mobilized the Empire to intervene. There was another faction opposed to the Empire, an organization calling themselves the Returners, who seemed to be trying to start an uprising. Perhaps they planned to use magic to do it. That must be it. Emperor Gestahl was just trying to protect the people from the Returners, and to do so he needed to secure Narshe's Esper before the Returners could get their hands on it. That made sense.

It didn't explain the technology that powered Magitek armor, though. But there had to be a reasonable explanation for it all. The Empire was not evil. It couldn't be.

Another Narshe patrol stepped onto the path ahead. "Narshe's freedom depends on us!"

This time the woman fired before the men had even managed to take a step. A bright beam of blue shot from her mech this time, immobilizing the guards in a thick shell of ice. She pressed a few buttons on her console, and her mech raised his steel arm. Latched atop its forearm were a pair of foot-long missiles. With a pop-hiss, one ignited and flew toward the frozen men. The collision sounded like the shattering of fifty panes of glass. The remains of the men showered down upon the buildings and pathways ahead, leaving the way forward clear. Vicks couldn't even try to imagine how that must've felt.

The path shifted upward ahead, narrowing through a ravine past several more homes and into the hills. As they marched through, Wedge's ears seemed to perk. "Did you hear that?" he asked.

Vicks stopped and listened carefully. For a moment, there was nothing but the stillness of the night. Then he heard it; something that sounded like numerous feet scampering through the snow behind them. He and Wedge turned their mechs around to prepare for whatever might be headed their way.

"We've got 'em trapped, now!" a voice yelled from behind. Vicks looked back to see two more men racing toward them from the north. As he faced his console to bring his mech about, two dogs burst around the corner to the south, snarling and barking as they bounded toward the imperial soldiers.

"We'll take the dogs," Wedge shouted. "She'll handle the guards."

The last thing Vicks wanted to do was kill a couple of dogs, but they seemed to be ready to rip his throat out given the opportunity. As they galloped closer, Vicks angled his Magitek mech directly toward the one on the right. Wedge aimed for the other to the left. Simultaneously, they pushed the triggers of their left control sticks, unleashing powerful bolts of electricity into their targets. The dogs squealed and tumbled backward before resting motionless in the snow. Vicks looked back just in time to see the two guards meet a similar fate.

"C'mon," Wedge said, turning northward once again. "We need to keep moving."

They continued along at a slow but steady pace, following the ravine up a steep incline toward Narshe's northern border. A short distance beyond the final house, Vicks could see four figures standing with weapons drawn. "They won't even give us a chance to speak," he grumbled. "If they'd just talk to us, maybe we could avoid bloodshed."

"What are you worried about?" Wedge asked, almost laughing. "They can't touch us. We're Magitek soldiers!"

Vicks shook his head as snow crunched under his mech's feet. "I'm not worried about us. I'm worried about them. I don't want to have to kill people if it isn't necessary."

"But their actions make it necessary," Wedge told him. "That's not our fault. Don't blame yourself."

Vicks raised an eyebrow. "What would you think if Magitek soldiers marched into your town?"

"I'd think they must have had good reason," Wedge said flatly. "I would never question orders from His Highness."

Again, Vicks sighed and shook his head. "I suppose."

The four soldiers stood at the top of the rise, waving and shaking their weapons menacingly as though they really thought they stood a chance against the imperial troops. Vicks wanted to call to them, to offer amnesty, to beg cooperation, but he couldn't undermine Wedge's command like that. Instead, he kept his mouth closed, and eventually, he heard the rallying cry he'd hoped to avoid.

"We must defend the mines!" The guards screamed, rushing down with weapons waving above their heads. They were dispatched by a few quick blasts from the Magitek cannons.

"Fools," Vicks growled. "If they'd stayed in hiding, they'd yet live."

Wedge nodded with satisfaction. "Exactly. They chose to oppose us, and therefore chose their fate."

It wasn't quite what Vicks had meant, but it was clear that he and Wedge were of separate opinions on the matter. "Let's just get the Esper and get out of here."

Just beyond the top of the hill, the three came to one of several mine entrances. This particular opening had piles of fresh wood and tools lying on the ground beside it, suggesting that it had only been recently constructed.

Wedge must've noticed it, too. "According to our source, the frozen Esper was found in a new mine shaft. Maybe this one?" He guided his Magitek armor inside without waiting for a response. Vicks and the woman followed close behind.

The tunnel itself was relatively short. Oil lamps lined the walls, providing the only source of light in the dim shaft. Half-finished train tracks ran along the center of the dirt floor, leading right up to the far wall where they disappeared under a pile of rocks and dirt. Vicks' first thought was that there had been a cave-in, but upon closer inspection, he began to think otherwise. A cave in would've left more structural damage, and debris would be littered about the floor. This looked more light a neatly organized pile of rocks and boulders purposely designed to block the path. Only one way to find out...

"I'll handle this," Vicks said, positioning his Magitek armor as close to the pile of debris as he could manage. He tapped a few buttons on his console and pulled back on the right control stick. The mech raised its heavy arm and pulled back, mechanical fingers clenched. Vicks pushed the stick forward, and the Magitek unit mimicked the action, thrusting its fist forward with immense force. The punch blew a gaping hole in the rubble and sent rocks and debris scattering across the floor. Again, Vicks wound up and delivered a stiff blow, shattering through the largest boulder in the center of the pile. Over and over, he pounded his way through the wall of rock until there was a wide opening through which the mechs could pass.

"I would've just blasted through," Wedge said, crossing his arms.

"I didn't want to risk damaging whatever is on the other side," Vicks responded. "Unless you'd like to be the one to tell Emperor Gestahl that you incinerated the Esper."

"Nonsense," Wedge said, pointing toward the silent woman. "I'd blame her. That's what she's here for."

Vicks rolled his eyes and headed through the opening. What he saw on the other side nearly took his breath away.

It was a wide open cavern unlike the typical mine shaft. The train tracks stopped midway into the room. Just beyond that, a single guard beside what looked like an oversized snail's shell. But that wasn't what had caught his attention. Against the far wall, standing nearly twice again as tall as Vicks himself, was a giant block of ice. And inside, a giant creature resembling some kind of bird with green and red feathers lay dormant, encased in its frozen prison for over a millennium.

They had found the Esper.

"By the Goddesses!" Wedge exclaimed as he entered behind Vicks. "Look at the size of it! We'll never be able to get that thing back to Vector ourselves!"

"You won't have to worry about that!" the guard shouted, patting the giant shell. It was nearly the size of the Magitek unit. "We won't hand over the Esper! Whelk! Get them!"

A low growl came from the shell, a resonating vibration that shook Vicks to the core. From the opening near the floor slithered a giant snail, its neck oozing with an unidentifiable slime. Teeth like giant needles lined its oversized mouth, and its beady eyes twisted about, presumably surveying the room for food. As soon as it saw the guard standing beside it, the head shot forward, mouth open further than Vicks would've thought physically possible. It came down over the soldier's head with a crunch, silencing his screams as it lifted his body into the air. The beast ate like a snake, swallowing the little man in two more bites.

"OK, try to stay out of its reach," Wedge said while it struggled to get the guard down its gullet. "Its head may be fast, but it's still a snail. Its maneuverability is its weakness. We'll-"

But Vicks already knew what to do. "Hold it. Think back to our briefing."

Wedge was obviously getting impatient. "What about it?!"

"Do you remember hearing about a monster that eats energy . . . "

Wedge's eyes widened. " . . . and stores it in its shell!"

"Right," Vicks nodded. "So whatever you do, don't attack the shell!"

Whelk growled angrily, its beady eyes shifting between the two of them. Vicks and Wedge moved to either corner of the room while the sorceress woman stood between them.

"Ready?" Wedge called out. "Fire!!"

Vicks unleashed a powerful blast of fiery light, hitting the monster right between the eyes. At the same time, Wedge let loose a blast of ice energy which formed a frozen patch on the left side of the beast's head. Their female companion followed that with a missile that exploded into Whelk's neck, leaving charred burns across its disgusting pink flesh. The creature let out a piercing roar as it writhed in pain.

"Again! We can't let up!" Vicks shouted, firing again. But this time, Whelk withdrew into its shell, and the fiery blast crashed into the pink shell.

"No!" Wedge yelled, but it was too late. A thick band of electricity rolled across the shell before it shot toward Vicks, throwing him from his mech. His body slammed into the wall before crashing to the floor.

Everything hurt. A dull ache rolled through his arms, his legs felt like jelly, and his chest smoldered where the blast had found its mark. As he struggled onto all fours, he was startled to see the their female companion standing over him. She didn't say a word. She just clasped her hands together and lowered her head. White light surrounded her body and raised up, seemingly hovering above her before coming down on Vicks like a soothing blanket. Within seconds, the pain left him, his wounds closed, and strength flowed anew. It was like something out of a storybook, something he wouldn't have believed if it hadn't happened to him. The rumors about her had to be true. That was magic!

From the other side of the room, Wedge was screaming. "Can I get a little help over here!?"

The monster was back out of his shell and angrier than ever. Vicks jumped to his feet and climbed back into this mech while the woman returned to hers. Wedge was backed into the corner with Whelk's teeth snapping just inches from his face.

"Hold on!" Vicks called, shifting his mech into position. With a silent prayer, he fired a crimson blast into the side of the creature's long neck. The beam cut through flesh with ease, severing Whelk's head from the rest of its body. It hit the ground with a disgusting splat.

And then it was over.

"Took you long enough!" Wedge grumbled, stomping over the remains of the creature's head.

"Did you see what she did?" Vicks asked him. "She healed me! She used magic!"

"That's not surprising," Wedge responded. "She does-" He cut himself off. "Hey, what's she doing?"

The woman was standing in front of the Esper in silence. She stared at the ancient creature intently, eyes as wide and glistening.

Vicks and Wedge shifted to either side of her. "Hey, what's the matter?" Wedge asked her. "Do you know something we don't?"

Of course, she didn't respond. Vicks looked back at the Esper. The ice glistened in the flickering light of the lanterns. Somehow, though he couldn't explain quite why, he got the feeling that it was studying them just as much as they were studying it.

Without warning, a blinding light filled the cabin, accompanied by a horrific scream from Wedge. When his vision cleared, Vicks was surprised to see Wedge in a crumpled heap on the far side of the room, his mech blown to pieces around him. "Wedge! Are you-"

Another blinding flash of light, and this time Vicks felt like every bone in his body had been shattered to pieces. He sailed from his mech as it exploded beneath him, sending mangled iron and gears across the room like shrapnel. The pain that radiated through him when he hit the ground was indescribable.

When he looked up, everything was blurred. Vainly, he tried to crawl to his feet, only to find his body unwilling to respond. The world spun, glowed, faded. He could see the woman, rising from her Magitek armor, surrounded by a brilliant blue light. The light formed repeated arcs between her and the Esper as consciousness began to slip away. Did Gestahl know this would happen? Did Kefka? What was it all for?

Darkness swallowed everything.

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