Shoofie eventually arrived in the late hours of the night. The short nap she had taken prior to Amarant’s unexpected appearance had left her charged and awake for the trip to the cold north. As it was, Shoofie took a liking to the red-headed giant. The mercenary denied ever laying eyes on him before and ignored the bird’s head bobs and coos. By dawn, she spotted the volcano, the former entrance to Terra, on the horizon. She nudged Amarant but he only grunted.
The sun was blazing strongly in the icy air when they finally landed at the bottom of the glacier. Where Shoofie would go, Freya wasn’t sure, but after Amarant’s insistent shoving him away as he tried to follow them, the bird finally got the hint and sulked away to the shoreline where he dejectedly launched off.
“They’re particular creatures, aren’t they,” Freya suggested.
Amarant sniffed and trudged towards the spiraling entrance to Esto Gaza. He turned back to Freya. “So what makes you think the book ended up here?”
They began up the stairs side by side. Freya appreciated his patience. “This is where religion finds its beginning. It would be here. If it isn’t, then I’m at a loss.”
“Are there many pilgrims left anyway?”
He shook his head. “Pilgrims for what? It’s a faithless world we live in.”
“Not entirely true…” she replied quietly. Either he didn’t hear her or had nothing more to say because they ascended the rest of the way in silence.
The fans, the platforms, the pillars, the cold north wind, it all made her shudder to see it all again. The last time they had been here, they had rushed through as quickly as they could to find Eiko before the twin clowns had their way with her eidolons.
A few folks bundled up in their furs shuffled by them, and it was calm and still rather early. They went immediately to the temple where they had last found the high priest. He wasn’t there. Only a few early worshipers loitered nearby the shrine.
“We’ll sit and wait. Maybe we’ll hear something.”
The two went as far the back into the hall as they could and sat down, soaking in the warmth after the cold flight.
“How are you planning on finding the book here? You’re just going to ask?”
“I’ll ask them about Terra. We’ll know if they’re hiding something,” Freya replied, surprised at how sure of herself she sounded.
“They’re all esoteric up here, I’m not so sure.”
“No matter,” she shook her head. “We’ll find something.”
“And then what? Take the book and burn it?”
She shook her head harder this time. “No. I’d like to read it for myself. But I also want to know what these prophecies are all about.”
“Read it? If that’s the case, then I’ll see you later. Going to the Village to talk to those clones would make more sense than coming all the way to this frozen glacier.”
“I’ll ask questions, first.”
“Yeah, and they’re just going to hand the book to you.”
“I knew Dr. Bani, perhaps they’ll be more open to me.”
He waved his hand. “This is what we’ll do.” He stood up and began walking away from her. She stared after him. Is he leaving? What is he doing? Concern flooded her soul. “Where are you going?” She whispered to him as loud as she dared. And then she realized that someone, the high priest himself, had entered the building.
She hurriedly gathered herself up and began after him.
He had already begun a conversation with the fidgety high priest.
“Who are you, and how dare you come and ask me such a repulsive question!”
Amarant took a step toward him and the bishop shrank back in fear. Freya arrived just at that moment and placed a hand on Amarant.
“Please,” she turned to the bishop. “Forgive my friend, sometimes he can be rather blunt.”
“Blunt indeed!” The bishop brushed his vest and glared up at Amarant. “Are you some Terra worshiper?”
Whatever Amarant had said must have been beyond blunt! And she noticed the two people near the shrine peeking at them and then slink away. What was he thinking!
“That’s what I’m asking you,” Amarant retorted. “You worship the stars here, so I ask you if there’s a new religion for Terra. I want to know about it.”
“Religion?” The bishop cried. “Religion?!”
She didn’t know what to say.
“I heard there’s a book out there that has to do with Terra coming back to take over Gaia. So I want to know about it.”
“B-book! Terran book…!” He sputtered, clenching and unclenching his hands.
Amarant leaned down, ignoring Freya’s pointless hand on his chest. “I see you’re hiding something.”
“Amarant, what are you doing!” She whispered to him and turned quickly to the bishop. “Please, he can be a little rash, we just–”
“R-rash!” He looked back and forth at them, backing up against the railing.
“We heard some rumors and words spoken about Terra and the coming of some protectors of the planet,” Amarant continued. “We want to know what you know about it.”
The bishop’s mouth opened and closed, and opened and closed again, eyes still darting back and forth between them.
Amarant glared for another few seconds, then stood back up. “Come on Freya, this one’s useless.”
She just stared at him.
“F-Freya?” The bishop croaked. “The Freya from the group of yore?”
“Yes,” she held onto Amarant and tried to look as docile as she could despite her fury at Amarant.
“Ah-h.” He looked even more frightened than before. “Why have you come here?”
“Sir, we would just like to know if there is any new information about Terra.”
“Well, well, plenty of prophecies and planet talk here, plenty, but I don’t know what you’re looking for, I mean, we are always searching for answers, we are not always correct as we like to believe, but certainly there have been some things, er, words, er, signs of the gods–”
“Stop your babbling,” Amarant interrupted. “Freya, this man knows exactly what we’re asking of him but he just wants to play games. Let’s find someone who isn’t afraid of his own shadow.” And he walked away, leaving Freya to stand alone with the high priest.
As soon as Amarant closed the door to the temple, the bishop sighed audibly that ended in a whimper.
“Sir, I would just like to know more about these prophecies and rumors I’ve heard about Terra.”
She hated that question. “Because I’d like to know if Terra is still alive.”
His countenance changed and he seemed to stand up a little straighter. “It is.”
Alarm jolted through her like lightning. “But how do you know this?”
“We had a Terran himself come here from Terra, now partially destroyed but still alive. He told us that it is returning and even as you and I speak, at this very moment, the red crystal is devouring the blue crystal.” His face was entirely serene, as if he were reciting the morning prayers for the umpteenth time.
He didn’t even call it ‘our’ crystal. “How can you say this so calmly?”
“Because it is inevitable. Gaia is not and can never be as powerful as Terra. Terra is mature, and therefore stronger, smarter, and wiser, than us petty Gaians.”
“But why would someone from Terra warn us of this? Who was this Terran?”
“He called himself Duma. He was here many moons ago, and bespoke of returning again soon.”
“Duma…? But it still doesn’t make sense! Why would Duma, a Terran, warn us of doom?”
“He told us that he would inspire one of us to expound upon this knowledge. Finally, we have received this inspiration and we are only beginning to understand the brilliant and remarkable magnificence and knowledge of Terra. This book is merely a taste of what Terra beholds.”
“But why warn us?”
The bishop smiled. “To save us, those who would believe, of course.”
She shivered. That ghost of a smile she had seen before, twice. Now three times. Her stomach turned. “This inspiration… wouldn’t have been a book written by Dr. Bani, would it?”
“Why, yes, how did you know!” A tremendous scowl formed on his face.
Her silence he mistook and his face lightened. “Now don’t be humble. I know why you are here. You who once helped Gaia eliminate the Mist and its purposes, are now realizing that there are many more ways for Terra’s fusion spell to succeed than through something so obvious as the Iifa Tree. You have been enlightened!”
“…” She knew the high priest to be a fearful and arrogant man, full of hot air, but she now realized he too had lost his mind.
“But your blue friend there,” he leaned toward her despite the temple being empty, “he doesn’t believe. If he held any respect, he would be here asking questions like yourself!”
But he was asking questions… oh dear, what is going on! Better to play the game as long as I can, then get out of here. “I am curious to how these prophecies are grounded. I would like to see the book.”
He raised his eyebrow. “Not anyone can see this holy book. Only I and those I’ve personally selected can review and study this priceless tome. It is only for the chosen, you see. We wouldn’t want just anyone to sit beside the Terran high rulers.”
“Then can I ask who the protectors of the planet are?”
His face suddenly darkened and he lowered his head to peer up at her. “How do you know all this?”
“I was once a friend of Dr. Bani,” she bowed her head for a moment in respect.
“So… he shared its contents with you?”
“I was there the moment before he died, sir, and that is what he told me.”
“Yes, but why…? Well never mind, it appears he trusted you.”
“He trusted me enough to delegate me with the book the moment he finished it,” she added hastily.
“Well I’m glad to know it came as soon as it did. I sincerely thank you for its expedient delivery.”
“…” That didn’t turn out as expected.
“The protectors of the planet are mentioned very early in the book. It is obviously a reference to eidolons, most undoubtedly Terra’s eidolons.”
“Terra had eidolons?” This was concerning.
“Indeed! Do you consider Gaia to be so superior and unique as to be the only ones possessing such power? Certainly not!”
I never thought of it that way… oh dear. “Did Duma say where he was going?”
“We wouldn’t dare to ask such a personal question! He should return soon… he was last here about six moons ago.”
They must be getting impatient. And that’s about the time Dr. Bani began his book. “Terrans live among us in the rest of Gaia, do they know of this?”
“They have been preparing for this for quite some time now, yes.”
Interesting… “So Duma is reviving Terra?”
The high priest bowed his head. “All our prayers belong to his grace.”
“And what of Mikoto?”
“What of her?”
“She is their self-appointed leader and representative, at least to Gaia’s understanding. I’ve just come from Lindblum, there has been no talk of Terra returning, nor has there even been mention of it.”
“They will know soon enough. And when they know, it will be too late.”
“But what of Gaia?”
“What of it? It will be dissolved into Terra, as was its original goal.”
“And what of you and all of… Duma’s followers?”
“We have been promised a grand place among Terra.”
“…” She didn’t know what to say anymore.
The high priest bowed his head to her and folded his hands, an uncomfortable silence now settling between them.
“I thank you for sharing this with me,” Freya began, hoping he wouldn’t realize that she didn’t agree with him. “I’ve only arrived this morning, I will need to rest after my travels.”
She took his silence as predicted hostility and she made her exit.
The cold air hit her hard and she looked left and right for her hot-headed friend. Perhaps he’d gone to the lower levels. She visited the mythril shop, now rather low in wares, but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t in the lower levels of the residential quarter, and she resurfaced and made her way towards the Mt. Gulug entrance. Would he go in there?
Making sure no one was following her, she slipped into the mineshaft.