He stood a ways down the right-hand path, leaning on a building and gazing down into the depths of the dead volcano. She approached him and he didn’t look up until she stood within a foot of him.
“So? What’d you find?” He asked without even a glance.
“It’s… a very strange… I don’t know what to call it. I can’t say it’s a religion.”
“Starting from the beginning would make sense.”
She frowned at him. “Did you have to be so rude?”
“Seems like you did just fine. So what?”
She shook her head and sighed. “It appears that someone from Terra, someone named Duma, came here and told them that Terra was returning, and anyone who believes, or possibly worships him, would be promised a prestigious position on Terra once Terra takes over Gaia. He claims that Duma inspired Dr. Bani to write this book to enlighten them about Terra. And as they’re fawning over this book, and as I speak, Terra’s crystal is taking over ours. And the Terrans on this planet are in on it!”
Amarant rolled his eyes. “That’s a lot of hooey.”
“… They, or, he anyway, seems to feel very strongly about it.”
“These people are killing themselves for Terra? For some nonsense promise?”
“That’s what I can’t understand! They don’t see Terra as an enemy, but something to look up to!” She shook her head and flopped down onto the slats. Amarant had lit a few of the torches nearby and the orange glow began to warm her chilled bones. But it couldn’t take the chill out of her soul.
“Bunch of horseshit.” He sat down beside her. “Bunch of wishful thinking from wishy-washy weaklings. They go from one thing to the next. And this Duma? He inspired your doctor friend to write a book about Terra?”
“I half believe it, only because most of that book contained things I’d never heard of before.”
He shrugged. “Still a bunch of horseshit.”
She chuckled half-heartedly. “It’s very disturbing.”
Silence ensued for a few minutes.
Amarant broke it: “Wish I had a drink.”
She nodded in agreement. “At least it’s warm in here.”
“Think they’ll come looking for you, now that you made them suspicious?” Amarant looked at her.
“What’s an old bishop going to do to me?” Freya shook her head. “He didn’t have to answer my questions if he didn’t want to.”
“So now what?”
“Now… I suppose we have to see if Terra is dead… or not.”
“And you think the Terrans in the Village are going to help us make sure their planet is dead?”
“And this Duma… Name sounds familiar, you know.”
She turned to look at him. “Where?” And when were you planning on letting me in on that?
“Treno, I think. Some noble small-talk, you know how they like to drop names.”
“Nobles?” She furrowed her brow in thought. He was quiet as she sorted her swirling thoughts. “Do you think maybe this is all a hoax?”
He looked at her through the side of his eyes. “Sounds like you think Terra’s not still kickin’.”
She covered her eyes half in exasperation and the other half in defeat. “Anything is possible, I’ve come to learn. But it never ceases to sadden me every time I see deceit and treachery in this world.”
“Hmph. We’re not the only planet with that ailment. Unless we’re all zombie children, like those Terrans.”
What a price to pay! “I would be quite angered if this was some nobleman’s idea of a joke!”
“But no one else, as far as you know, knows about this ‘plan.’”
“There is plenty of contention against Terrans though.”
“That’s strictly on a social level. I’m referring to a conscious awareness.”
“Wait… deceit and treachery…”
“That’s what you said.”
“That’s what the prophecy said, too.”
Amarant laughed loudly. It echoed eerily down into the depth. “Now that’s twisted! Who isn’t full of deceit and treachery these days!” He guffawed again.
“He’s going to let everyone know he’s demented?” He only snickered now.
She groaned and rubbed her eyes.
“Wish we had that drink.”
She nodded, keeping her hands over her eyes. Her head was starting to hurt, and she was tired. So tired. Fretting kept her awake, but she knew it prevented her from analyzing anything properly.
“Want me to go find some?”
She looked at him.
He shrugged and got up.
And I’ll stay here worrying. She watched him disappear into the darkness.
She awoke with a start. Amarant had returned with a few drinks before and after consuming them, they had consequently collapsed from exhaustion. Now the torches had gone out, and only a dim sliver of light appeared from the volcano’s entrance above them. The night sky glittered back at her upturned eyes. She heard Amarant snoring quietly beside her and she shook him awake.
Without warning, a sudden ball of light appeared beside her and she saw a ball of flame in Amarant’s palm.
He stared back at her. “Where to?”
She swallowed, suppressing a yawn. “I fear we won’t be obtaining this book tonight.”
“…I kind of figured that. Then again, it is an opportune time for obtaining books.”
She raised her eyebrow. “I refuse to operate that way.”
“I kind of figured that, too. Well, I always hated looking for objects. People are easy to find. Inanimate trinkets are not.”
“I thought you stopped doing those sorts of things.”
“Well,” she sighed. “Now that we know the book is here, I suppose we ought to go on to the Village. I need to send Dr. Francis a letter before I go. Perhaps he can do some of his own work with his friends to procure this manuscript.”
They exited the volcano and the moogle they’d seen earlier wasn’t in his usual location behind the temple. But it couldn’t have been very late because the lights were still glowing brightly from the temple. They re-entered the temple and like that morning, it was empty save a few stragglers huddling near the fire the keep warm.
They spotted the moogle near the merchant’s stand.
“Kupo-po!” The moogle immediately spied the two and flitted towards them. She smiled at the creature as it landed beside her and bowed. “At your service, Miss Crescent and Mr. Coral.”
“Thank you,” she replied. “I need to send a letter to a Dr. Francis.”
“Yes, kupo!” He bobbed his head, the red tuft bobbing with it. “Mori has been busy conversing with him!”
“Oh has he,” she shook her head. The professor and the moogle probably carried most interesting conversations. She squatted down to the creature’s height. “I need to tell him that the book is here and for the moment, I cannot access it. And that I’m now proceeding to the Village.”
The moogle narrowed his eyes and peered around before looking back at her. “This has always been an interesting post, kupo. I know what you are referring to.”
An idea suddenly occurred to her. “Were you here six moons ago when this Duma came here?”
“Duma, kupo? I do not recall a Duma.”
Her hopes sank as quickly as they had arisen. “The bishop told me that a Terran had come here, by the name of Duma, and I’m led to believe he inspired this recent resurgence of Terra’s return.”
“Ku-po…” He waddled even closer to her. “There has never been a Terran here.”
“But…” Would the bishop lie to me? I would believe this moogle any day over a delusional preacher. “Do you remember anyone peculiar around six moons ago?”
“Oh yes, kupo, I see strangers every day, maybe some regulars, but kupo, I do not know their names unless they have a letter to send. Six moons ago I saw a man with long black hair and a long black coat come here. Maybe this is the Duma, kupo? He was not here long, but he did talk to the bishop.”
Freya turned to Amarant for any sign of recognition. Amarant shrugged. She looked back to him. “I will keep that in mind, thank you.”
“Kupo! Will you be leaving now?”
She nodded, standing up.
“Then I will call your chocobo!”
At last, a genuine smile crossed her face. “You can do that? I would be so grateful.” She hadn’t even contemplated waiting in this subzero tundra for her ride. That could have been a mistake.
The moogle withdrew a small whistle from an obscure pocket and blew into it. No sound came out. He put the whistle down. “He should be where you last saw him, kupo!”
She bowed to him.
“I will send your letter immediately! Fare well, good-bye, kupo!”
The two travelers made their exit, a cold northern wind whipping their coats.
Shoofie was waiting at the bottom of the small fortress and they departed immediately. Thankfully, the bird was warm despite the cold air and Shoofie traveled at a lazy pace. With Shoofie’s body heat and the never-ending waves below them, Freya felt herself drifting off to sleep again.
It was early morning when her eyes reopened. Dry red earth rolled by underneath them, mountains surrounding the horizon. It looked vaguely familiar. The Northern Continent was an entirely different landscape than the lush green continent if the Mist Continent.
“Could you get us there as close as possible?” Freya leaned forward.
The bird didn’t change direction and she hoped this docile yet unpredictable creature was following orders. She turned and glanced back at Amarant. He was awake, staring off at the passing scenery.
“The moogle’s description of Duma didn’t remind you of anyone?”
He shook his head, not bothering to look at her. “I think that bishop’s a lunatic.”
“Perhaps…” But she didn’t know what else to say, because she too thought the same. “Perhaps it’s a man pretending to be a Terran?”
“Lots of people do that. Kuja did that, if you recall. As if he was ashamed.”
“I believe there were many facets to why he did that. However, Zidane never hid his identity.”
“Because he didn’t know the difference,” Amarant sneered.
“Let’s get to the village and I’d like to settle this once and for all. We’ll put that book aside for now.” She faced forward, and sighed in relief when she saw the dark woods of the former Black Mage Village approaching them quickly. The trail to the small town, now expanded and modified since the Terran occupation, no longer misled would-be visitors. But yet, as Shoofie dropped them off and reluctantly let them leave her at the edge of the forest, Freya couldn’t help but feel a strange ambiance coming from within its trees.
A few minutes after entering the forest, Amarant stopped. Freya noticed his halt a few steps later and she turned around to stare at him.
He beckoned her closer and she took a few steps back toward him.
He closed the gap and whispered to her. “Are you truly expecting them to be honest with you?”
She couldn’t quite understand why he was whispering, but she responded in kind. “I can only hope.”
His frown deepened. “I think you’re wasting your time. I guarantee they will all deny such a concept.”
“It seems you believe that Terra is still alive,” she grinned slightly.
“It doesn’t matter what I believe. But I say these clones in here are all in a collective. They’re of one mind. No single one will say anything different than the other.”
“They aren’t clones anymore!”
He looked at her sternly, his voice remaining low, unlike hers. “This forest watches and listens, don’t be a fool. I’ll remain at whatever inn they have here. You can go around asking questions. But mark my words.”
She crossed her arms and gave him a look of disbelief. He can be so negative. But yet I have …strange feelings. Is it this forest? And why am I suddenly nervous? …I feel… as if I’m not thinking clearly… seems the trees… are moving… She looked up at him.
He stared down at her. “Resist,” he said aloud, his hand making a small motion in the air.
She blinked at him, her mind suddenly going blank. He’d cast a spell. Perhaps this forest was still enchanted.
“You should hurry up before you conk out,” Amarant declared at a normal volume. “You slept enough on the way here, I think it’d be a tremendous waste of time if you took another nap.”
She frowned at him, turned on her heel and continued walking straight. He most certainly believes Terra is still alive. Funny I never asked. And me? I don’t have enough evidence. Heh. I’ve been around professors and doctors too long, it seems. He dislikes the Terrans, too. They are rather odd though. Or am I just chasing this theory to try and feel useful? …Is this all some farce, some puppet game of a rich noble? But then I wouldn’t be the only one pursuing this, would I? It wouldn’t be such a secret. But no, no farce would convince people to kill themselves, would it? Could it?
She felt miserable as the Village began appearing in between the tall evergreens.