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The Grace of God Chapter 3

SOME HOURS BEFORE dawn the lightning storms returned. Celes awoke, heart pounding, to shouts and screams; and by the time she managed to stumble into the hallway, still in her nightdress and grasping an unsheathed silver falchion, it was over.

The episode had been brief this time, only a few minutes. Nevertheless, and despite the protests of the castle guards, Celes did not return to her room. She and the others spent the rest of the night in Edgar's huge and cluttered inventing studio, where his experimental long-distance message machine tapped out a steady tattoo of code from around the world.

Locke, and a pained-looking Setzer, did their best to decode roll after roll of incomprehensible dots and dashes according to Edgar's notes. As for Edgar himself, he was the only one who knew how to reply; and he did so until morning, frowning as he tapped the machine's small gold type-key incessantly, a black glass funnel held to one ear.

Meanwhile, The Complete Archival Collection of Polygeotic Particularity had finally been found -- it had been cross-indexed into the fiction section. Celes and Terra studied it in shifts, looking through it as carefully as they could; the paper was so old that it crumbled at the edges despite their best efforts, and the ink had faded to a faint and nearly unreadable blue. The language, too, was arcane, and referred heavily to scientific terms none present had ever heard.

Strago, blinking heavily, answered their questions when he could; Relm sat silently in a corner with Interceptor. Sabin, to his discomfort and by Edgar's request, was seated on the throne of Figaro as emergency regent.

There was no question of sleep.

The news was much the same as it had been the last time. The same reports of ghosts, inimical to the touch, and furious storms; city leaders were waiting to hear Figaro's advice as to whether they should declare states of emergency or not. Some towns, like Tzen and Jidoor, already had. Only one town had not reported at all.

At last the hours had dragged on too long for Celes. "Are you sure he knows how to use it, Edgar?" she asked suddenly, looking up from the same page she had been reading for the past fifteen minutes. "He never was good with machines."

"Cyan helped me build most of these." Edgar did not pause in his work. "And Albrook's telegraph is one of the most advanced. He'll send a message soon."

Celes didn't reply. She glanced at Terra, who caught her eye sidelong; both of them had heard the unspoken if he's all right in Edgar's words.

"Red sky observed on Veldt," Locke recited haltingly to Setzer, who was transcribing. "May be expo -- sorry, explosions. Wish to discuss weaponry options. Doma."

Setzer handed this message to Edgar, who glanced at it and grimaced.

Setting her jaw, Celes tried not to think about Albrook. Locke had made her promise she wouldn't try to go back until morning broke at the soonest; and besides, it would take her too long to get there to be of any help. They had all agreed that traveling anywhere in the Falcon was too dangerous, now that the storms had proved recurrent.

Instead, she tried to focus on her task. She returned to the book in her lap and, without thinking, opened gently to the slim appendices toward the end. She was turning the pages and scanning the text automatically when a phrase caught her eye:

"infinite nearby worlds"

The words stirred something in her. She turned back to the passage in question.


"(Byanum 6.2.5 cont'd) ... the wavefunction, instead of collapsing at the moment of observation, carries on evolving in a deterministic fashion, embracing all possibilities embedded within it. All outcomes exist simultaneously but do not interfere further with each other. Thus while it is possible to detect the presence of these infinite nearby worlds through the existence of minute interference effects, it is impossible to travel to or communicate with them ...

(Byanum 6.2.6) While proponents of the "Goddess" theory argue that magical intensity of sufficient strength could indeed breach the divider of space-time between two such paths, no known force could come close to the cataclysmic power needed to open such a passage ..."


She swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry, and read on.


"(Byanum 6.2.7) In addition, it has been proven that such an aperture could only exist for a very brief period before sealing completely, leaving both quantum tracks exactly as they had been.

(Tussion 4.4.1 rebut.) While skeptics may claim that access to decoherent branches would be possible for milliseconds at most, some assert a gateway could remain exposed, or even be expanded, were a unique source of extreme magical complexity assimilated into a coeval parallel reality where it did not otherwise exist. Such a breach would necessarily result in annihilation for track prime, as it would be gradually corroded by the encroaching second track into non-existence..."

"Terra," said Celes, a hoarseness to her voice. "Look at this." She handed over the book.

A small frown line appeared between Terra's eyebrows as she focused on the passage. It deepened as she read.

"You think this has happened?" she asked quietly. "That there's a -- break in our world?"

"I think there might be. It ... felt that way."

Terra reread the page. "'Magical intensity.' But there's no magic left."

"Are you sure about that?"

"Yes." She looked across at Celes steadily. "I'm sure."

She was, Celes thought, likely the only person in the world qualified to be. But still ...

Suddenly she noticed how quiet it had gotten. The tapping of the telegraph machine had stopped some time ago. Everyone was watching her and Terra.

"What happened?" asked Locke. "Did you find something?"

Terra looked at Celes, and cleared her throat. "Yes. I think we may have found what you were talking about, Strago."

The old man, who had been resting his chin in his hand, started. "You have? Where?"

Terra showed him the page, and Strago's mouth moved soundlessly as he followed the words. "Breach the divider ... yes ... gradually corrode. Oh, dear. Yes, I'm afraid this is exactly what I was thinking of."

"What is?" said Edgar. They were all crowded around the worktable now. "What is it?"

"These storms are not coming from anywhere in our world," said Strago. "They're coming from another realm -- one like ours, but where possibility rules."

"I'm sorry?" said Setzer. "Come again?"

"This book claims that every possible outcome of every event occurs," said Celes, impatiently, "only in a different ... reality. And that there's no way to reach these different realities, I might mention."

"Unless a cataclysmic magical event opened a door ..." murmured Strago.

"Which isn't possible, as there have been no such events."

"Not since four years ago," said Strago pointedly.

"Right." Then Celes realized his implication. "Do you mean to say you think such a door appeared four years ago?"

"It's certainly possible."

"But ..."

"It seems to me," said Strago, "that the destruction of the Statues would most certainly be as cataclysmic as their appearance. If not more so."

"But it says here that a break would appear for 'milliseconds at most'," said Edgar, who had taken the book and was scanning it as he spoke. "Which means if something were to happen, it would have happened at the moment the Statues were destroyed, and not years later. Just as the storms in the legend appeared only for a short time when the Goddesses first appeared."

"Probably," Strago admitted.

"This one line," Terra spoke up. She was reading over Edgar's shoulder. "'A gateway could remain open were a unique source of extreme magical complexity' --" She shook her head and worked her mouth slightly, as though the language had twisted her tongue. "What does that mean?"

"A powerful magical source, if it fell into the break, could keep the gateway open," said Edgar.

"Or expand it," said Strago darkly.

"A powerful magical source." Locke had begun to pace. "Like the Statues. But those -- those, we definitely destroyed. I mean, I was there."

"I think we all were, Locke," said Setzer.

"What else could it be?" asked Terra. "Magicite?"

Strago shook his head. "I don't think that would be powerful enough. It would need to ..." He searched for the words. "Be yearning to return to its true home. Be strong enough to remember ..."

"I'm not convinced," Celes spoke up. Her voice was firm. "This book even admits to being mostly conjectural. And I believe I would have remembered if we had left anything behind at Kefka's tower, especially if it were strong enough to slash open a pathway between two realities."

"Would you really have, Celes?" asked Terra softly. "I know I only remember that day as a blur. There was so much being destroyed -- and we barely made it out with our lives, let alone everything we brought with us. Everything magic was leaving us ..."

She trailed off, and Celes realized that she was remembering her father.

"Perhaps," she said, begrudgingly. "But as Edgar said, why would this be happening now, and not four years ago?

" No one had the answer to that.

"So where would this break be?" asked Setzer at length. "Everywhere? Because if that's the case, I don't think we'll be able to close it again."

"No," said Strago. He was twisting his moustache as he flipped through the book. "No, while the effects might be seen everywhere, the break would be in one place. Wherever the magical calamity occurred that opened it to begin with."

"Where would that be?" asked Celes.

Before anyone could reply, Edgar's telegraph machine began clicking wildly. He leaped out of his seat and rushed over to it, not bothering to look out the paper scrolling out, just pressing his ear to the glass receiver and decoding as he went. "Areas ... surrounding ...

"It's from Albrook," he announced at a break in clicking, and Setzer threw him the notebook. Edgar caught it one-handed and began to write.

The message, when it has been sent in its entirety, read:

"Order restored in city and areas surrounding. Unconfirmed reports of perpetual darkness in Vector desert. Please come as soon as possible. Be armed for battle. Cyan."


***


The doors of the armory clanged hollowly as Edgar pushed them open. "It's all here," he said, "all as we left it. I decided to have everything put into storage two years ago. I had thought -- I had hoped that they could someday be a display in the Jidoor Museum."

"You didn't think we'd need to use them again," said Celes.

"No. No, I'd hoped not. But Cyan seemed ... Anyway. If we're going to be prepared, I say we should be prepared in style. Weapons are this way -- general relics are in that chest, although I doubt we'll be making use of much of them. I can't see much use in taking any of those rings, or that old gem-encrusted box ... look with your eyes, Mr. Cole, not with your hands."

Locke, who had been rifling through the chest, looked wounded. "I was only making sure everything's in order."

"Right. As long as by 'in order' you don't mean 'in your pockets.'" Edgar had opened a massive, glass-faced cabinet in which dozens of swords and daggers were displayed. "Let's see. Here's your rune blade, Celes. Locke, you'll want the graedus, I think. Ah." He went quiet.

"What is it?" asked Terra.

"I had forgotten." Carefully, he drew a long, blue-bladed sword from the back of the cabinet. Shimmering, it caught the light both within and without; the shine was remarkable. The Atma Weapon.

Celes took it from Edgar. At once she found herself back in the days when they had been on their desperate crusade, when she had been too busy to wonder why nothing seemed to make sense -- when all of them had been as fiercely close as those bonded by blood. She felt an ache in her chest.

"I think you should take it, Terra," she said suddenly.

"Me? Oh, I don't need -- I mean, Edgar, you don't have a weapon yet."

"Ah, but I do." From a display case he withdrew a dark mahogany automatic crossbow, its finish slightly battered from wear, but its gold gears and sprockets shining as brightly as ever. "And how I've missed it."

"I think you should take the Weapon, too, Terra," said Locke. "I mean, it's from the Esper World, after all. I've always thought of it as yours."

Slowly, Terra took the intricate handle of the sword. As soon as her fingers touched it, the blade pulsed, once, with warm white-blue light from hilt to tip -- just as it always had in Terra's grasp.

For Celes, it had always remained inanimate and cold.

"Scabbards and sword-belts, ladies," Edgar was saying. "I believe this one's yours, Terra. And yours, Celes. Now." He opened a chest of drawers. "Here, Locke. I suspect Setzer will want his poison darts -- careful. A dirk ought to do for Relm, don't you think?"

"Relm will be fighting?" Terra looked alarmed.

"No. Of course not. I hope not. I just want to be prepared for any possibility, that's all. Hopefully none of us will be using anything."

Just then Setzer stuck his head into the room. "Ooh," he said, surveying. "Fancy. Pick up anything nice, Locke?"

"Actually, I --" Locke saw Edgar's glare. "No, of course not, Setzer. I'm offended you would even say such a thing. Here, these are yours." He handed him a polished chestnut box.

Setzer snapped it open. "Ah, lovely. You know, I've gained quite a reputation because of these. No one will play darts with me anymore. Anyway, Edgar, the Falcon's all ready, but I thought you should know that it's snowing out."

"Snowing?" Edgar was dismayed. "Yesterday was the first day of spring."

"Yes, well, Mother Nature has a cruel sense of humor. But she provides fantastic winds, so I can't complain."

"All right. Thanks, I suppose. We'll be right there."

Edgar crossed his arms, thinking.

"Cloaks," he said finally, with a sigh, pulling open another drawer. "And scarves, and gloves. Damn. I'd thought we'd finally beaten this winter."


***


On the deck of the Falcon, the wind was strong as a lash on Celes's face. She had insisted on staying abovedeck, despite Setzer's protests, with the insistence she could better assess any damage to the countryside; but instead she found herself squinting against the stinging snow, huddled under her oilcloth cloak. Locke was standing with her, gripping the railing tightly, one of his bandannas pulled so low on his forehead that it almost covered his eyes.

"Well, I sure as hell can't see anything," he said to Celes, raising his voice to be heard over the wind. "Can you?"

"A little," she shouted back in reply, which was only barely true. She could just make out the shapes of the various farms and villages on Albrook's outskirts, but there was no destruction that she could see. Which was good, of course, but a part of her was frustrated. Collapsed roofs, broken fences, split trees: all of them would have been something physical, something definite. Instead it felt again like the storms and apparitions could have been nothing but a dream, one massive worldwide hallucination.

It had been the same in Albrook. When they arrived, Cyan and Gau had been waiting for them at Town Hall, the only figures in the completely, and eerily, empty streets. However, though all the townspeople had holed themselves up in their homes -- or already fled -- the city itself was as quiet and peaceful as could be, the snow falling gently on the fully intact buildings and into the calm, steady waves of the harbor, just as if nothing had happened there at all.

Cyan's face, when he greeted them, told a different story.

"I saw it myself," he said. "For a short while there were no houses; instead giant towers, and factories spewing smoke, the likes of which I have not seen since last we visited Vector. And everywhere, those cursed phantoms. They were far more corporeal, and higher in number, than they had been at Figaro. Indeed, it all of it seemed very nearly real."

When Edgar asked him about the 'unconfirmed reports' he had mentioned in his telegram, Cyan glanced at Gau.

"A merchant arrived early this morning. He claimed to have been near the Tower Ruins when the storms took place; he saw much the same we did. However, he insisted that even when the lightning ceased, the wasteland remained dark as night, and moreover obscured by some strange heavy fog. Certainly he was terrified; I think, perhaps, hysterical; and thus I would not have been inclined to fully accept his account as truth, except ..."

Here he trailed off, and Gau, looking at the ground, spoke.

"I know. I saw. All the animals all run away from that place, to the forest west. They are all scared. Something is there, bad. I know."

Cyan had promised to stay in Albrook for as long as was necessary, and Celes had reluctantly agreed. There was no sense in lending her presence to a city that had barred its doors when she was needed elsewhere; and besides, now, more than ever, she wanted to learn what was at the root of this. The hatch on the deck's floor opened, and Setzer stepped up, his coat whipping in the wind.

"Well, this is certainly unpleasant," he said, as loudly as he could manage. "You sure you don't want to come down, Celes?"

"No, thank you."

"Suit yourself. Don't you two blame me when you become icicles. Two leagues to the Tower Ruins; see anything yet?"

"Not a thing," said Locke, his teeth chattering.

"Everything looks normal to me," said Celes. "I wonder if --"

And there she stopped.

It was as though they had entered into a sea of opaque black. One moment the sky had was bright and pale gray with clouds, and the next there was nothing: no light, no snow or wind, no sound except for the humming engine and their own startled breaths. But for the break in the air the Falcon left in her wake, they might not have been moving at all.

"Good God," Celes heard Setzer mutter, his voice suddenly perfectly audible. There was the sound of thumping, of someone fumbling around with something metallic, and a click. Then there was light again: just the dim red glow from the airship's emergency lights, but most welcome nevertheless.

"What is this?" said Locke.

"I think we've hit our 'perpetual darkness,'" Setzer said grimly. "Wait. Look there, up ahead."

He needn't have pointed. Far beyond them, near the horizon, was the only thing visible in the dense blackness: a dim, white-gray blur. As they grew closer, it became brighter, more distinct.

"I'm landing," said Setzer decisively.

The Falcon touched down on what should have been the rocky, debris-strewn plain in which Kefka's tower had once stood, but instead, with a loud clang, it hit against a ground that was hard, level, and clearly metallic. Setzer kept the engine running as Celes and Locke climbed down.

The hatch opened again. "Hey, guys," said Relm, stepping out. "Are we -- holy hell."

Strago followed behind her, and then Edgar and Terra, until they were all gathered on the metal floor of the wasteland, staring at the only beacon in an ocean of darkness.

It was a tall, flat, luminous pane, like the sole remaining wall of some massive self-shining rectangle. Its surface was constantly shifting with grayish light, crackling with tumultuous energy, its edges blurring to indistinction. It exuded, from its center, a fine, steady haze that looked somewhat like fog but that, Celes knew, was something far more insidious.

"This is it, isn't it," she said. "The gash."

What had she expected? A phantom door, perhaps, or a bottomless hole; or maybe a ragged tear in the sky itself, bleeding darkness like a wound. Not this coldly geometrical thing that radiated a chill that went beyond the lingering winter weather. She found herself shivering.

"Yes," said Strago. "'The place of storms.' And the night ... Yes, this is it."

"So the book was right," said Setzer, who looked the way Celes felt: agitated and anxious. "So what do we do now?"

"We enter it," said Strago quietly. "And retrieve what it was we lost."

"But we don't even know what that is!"

Meanwhile Celes had drawn closer to the gash. It was two-dimensional, that much was certain; viewed from the side, it was invisible, except for a nearly imperceptible white line every time its surface flared with energy. She walked around to face it again and, experimentally, removed one of her pearl earrings and tossed it through. A loud clatter told her it had landed safely on the other side.

"How are we supposed to enter it, Strago?" she asked, retrieving the earring. "It doesn't appear to be accepting visitors."

"Well, quite right, it wouldn't. There is a way to force it to. However ..."

"Yes?"

"It involves a spell," he said, looking troubled.

"A spell?" Locke said. "A magic spell?"

"There aren't many other kinds."

"Then that's it." Relm's expression was bleak. "We're done. We're done for, aren't we?"

"Not at all, lovey, not at all. Hand me the book, if you could? If a magical source created this opening" -- he sat on the cold steel ground and flipped through the pages, squinting to see in the weak light -- "it's likely that the world it leads to contains magic as well."

Celes gazed at the wall's flickering, fluid surface.

"What does that mean for us?" said Terra.

"Well, if what the book says is true, if one of us casts the spell while standing in the gateway, it will work."

There was silence in which Celes could feel eyes on her back. She knew what they were all thinking: without the help of Magicite, there had only ever been two of them who could use magic. Her, and Terra.

"How can we know for sure?" she asked at length.

"Quite simply, actually." Strago inclined his head. "Terra, you and Celes could each step into the gateway and try to cast a simple spell. I don't know -- cure, or some such thing."

Celes looked at Terra; her face was shadowy, inscrutable. Then she drew a deep, resolute breath. "Very well."

Walking into the gash was like stepping into a frigid stream. She gasped at the shock of it, but then, as in a stream, forced herself to adjust to the feeling. Soon it had abated to an uncomfortable jumpiness in her chest, like the rushing sensation of adrenaline. With her back to the red-glowing airship, and facing the darkness of the wastes, she repeated the same words she had spoken only the previous night: the spell of ice.

Nothing happened. Celes tried again, with the same result. She was beginning to tremble. She tried one last time, and then had to stumble out of the glowing wall or risk her legs failing her. She shook her head at the others, not trusting her voice.

Silently, Terra stepped forward. She briefly placed a hand on Celes's shoulder, then walked into the gateway, where, after a moment of recoil, she opened her mouth to speak.

Before a word had escaped her lips, a sphere of red-white flame burst to life in the palm of her outstretched hand, illuminating the plain as brightly as the light from a hundred candles.

For a minute Terra simply stared at it, too astonished to react. Then she closed her fist, and the fire vanished at once, as though it had winked out of existence.

Strago was the first to speak. "Remarkable. Remarkable. So you see."

"Yes," said Terra distantly, still in the midst of the glowing wall. Celes took her arm gently and led her away.

Edgar folded his arms. "We're going, then."

"Wait." Strago was flipping through the book again. "We can't all of us go. It's difficult enough sending one person through the gateway, let alone six others."

"What are you saying? That we should have Terra go by herself to a world that may be completely different from anything we know, to find some ... thing, that none of us even remember losing?"

"You'd find it easily enough once you got there," Strago said dismissively. "Something that powerful practically oozes a trail of magic. And no, I don't think you should go alone, Terra. You'll need help, I daresay."

"How much help?" Edgar asked.

"I think," said Setzer, "we should pick a nice round number. Three. Three more people."

The shifting gray-white surface of the wall wavered and flared.

"I hate to bring this up," said Edgar, "but the polyotic book said there might only be a few differences between this other world and our own, right, Strago?"

"Very possibly."

"In that case, I think having a king on hand might be useful. And more importantly, of course, I could never let a lady go unescorted."

He bowed to Terra, who shook her head, smiling.

"Hey, I might very well be a king in that world," said Setzer, grumpily.

"That, I very much doubt."

"I would also like to go," said Celes, interrupting the beginnings of a cat fight. "There's too much of Kefka in this, too much about the Empire. Unfortunately, I'm an expert on both."

"Then I'm going," said Locke at once. "Because, uh ... I want to."

Setzer raised an eyebrow drily. "A sound reason."

"Then it's settled." Strago stood up. "If you'll just go over the spell with me, Terra, my dear. It's a modified version of warp, you see ..."

As Strago discussed it with Terra, nodding and pointing out certain words on the page, Celes felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around to see Relm, her uncovered hair looking copper-colored in the ruddy gloom. She was holding something tightly in her hand.

"Hey, Celes." Her voice was low. "I'd like it if you -- um, I want you to have this."

She handed her a cool, heavy object. Celes held it up to see it better. It was a plum-sized ball of pure polished silver, its surface intricately engraved with swirls and curlicues. Celes recognized it at once. "Relm." It was all she could say.

"I thought I would bring it in case there were any monsters or anything here, but there aren't. And you need it more than I do."

"But ... This is too important to you. I can't take it."

Relm smiled, though there was a quaver to it. "It's all right. When he gave it to me, he said, 'use it only in an emergency.' I've decided that this is an emergency."

Celes hardly knew what to say. "Thank you." She tucked the ball into the pouch on her belt. "I'll bring it back to you."

"Well, whether you do or you don't. Good luck, Celes. Not that you'll need it, considering who's coming with you." She grinned mischievously. "Love conquers all, doesn't it?"

Celes, flustered, could only think to shrug.

Strago and Terra, meanwhile, had finished their conference and joined the others.

"I'm afraid this break will only grow faster and faster while you're gone," Strago was saying. "As I see it, Albrook could become engulfed in less than a week. The entire continent in fewer than two."

"So we'll just make sure to be back as soon as we can," said Edgar.

"It's not that simple. While it may be difficult to enter the gateway, it's almost impossible to return. The spell can only be cast once, and it only lasts for a short while."

"How short?" Celes asked.

"'Four sunsets,'" Strago read aloud. "No longer than that. You have to be back here by nightfall on the four day, or you'll never be able to return."

They digested this for a minute.

"As I see it, Terra," Celes spoke up, "you're really the only one of us who can make this decision. Edgar and Locke and I are just your backup; you're the one this endeavor can't do without. What do you think?"

Terra was quiet.

"It seems to me," she said at last, "that all of us will be lost if we don't close this rift soon."

Strago nodded. "Yes. Yes, exactly. So that's that." He looked the four of them over. "Have you got everything you need? Weapons? Gold?"

Edgar held up a velvet purse that jangled lavishly.

"We're ready, I think," said Celes.

"Well, then," said Strago. "Terra, I leave it to you."

"I'll be here in four days' time," said Setzer. "Don't keep me waiting. I insist on punctuality."

"Good luck," said Relm.

"Follow me, please," Terra said. She walked to the glowing wall and placed her right palm flat against its surface, as though it were the pane of a window.

"Each of you needs to be touching my left wrist," she told them, her voice slightly uneven, "near the pulse. Locke, I think you need to take off your glove. All right. Brace yourselves when I tell you."

She took a deep, shaky breath. "Now."

Celes closed her eyes. Terra began chanting a rhyme over and over again in a strange, unsettling language Celes had never heard before.

The wall crackled, then rumbled deeply. Soon it had drowned out the sound of Terra's voice. Celes opened her eyes to see the gray-white fog had thickened around them to the point of impenetrability; she looked behind her, but couldn't see anything of Strago and the others.

The rumbling grew to a thunderous roar. Terra's mouth was still moving soundlessly; then there was a crack, and a rushing sensation. Celes felt herself falling headlong into nothingness, and opened her mouth to scream.

But she hit solid ground before she could -- for by then they had made it through.


Chapter 4

All That Glitters Is Cold 2 Fanfic Competition
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