[03.09.00] » by Brickroad
William Shire was a scrawny boy, with a thin face and sharp, green eyes. He was a man of logic, who loved numbers, loved the way a clock ticked one gear at a time. His blonde hair was always short, so light that on a cloudless night it looked almost silver.
Karen Peterson was a short, quiet girl who spent her childhood battling illnesses. She was very pale, but had long ebony hair and deep, dark, violet eyes. When the light caught those eyes just right, glinting off a mirror or a deep, crystal pond... they were pools of ruby, shimmering and dazzling.
Will Shire and Karen Peterson lived in the small city of Maranda, quietly tucked away in the serine southern regions of the Vectorian Empire. The city's history was a long one, its rule changing hands multiple times over the past 100 years because of its closeness to the Freestates of Kohlingen across a small expanse of ocean to the west. The city was founded by a holy knight named Maranda DelMarque, hailing from the now-ruined country of Baron, in the neverending pursuit of religeous freedom. After a long bout between Maranda and Emporer Tybalt XII of Vector, the city declared its separation from the Empire. Ever since, numerous attempts at the hands of Vector have failed in assimilating the prosperous town into its iron grip.
Karen Peterson could have told you all this, as her major in the backwater Maranda University was World History. Her goal in life was to become a great scholar, spreading her knowledge throughout the world. Will Shire, on the other hand, majored in archetecture... his dream was to build a great bridge linking the hamlet of Maranda to the Freestates once and for all, allowing safe passage to the Opera House there.
To no surprise to the residents of Maranda, Karen Peterson and Will Shire were married. Both kids were successful in their new careers- both 20 years old, both thoroughly opposed to imperial rule.
Karen had to wear glasses, which made her students refer to her as slightly nerdish. At first, she was insecure and, as always, nearly ill over the tension. But Will always reassured her the spectacles made her look sophisticated and, if it were possible, all the more beautiful.
Much of Will's job required him to travel, mostly to Figaro where King Edgar would commision his work, far to the north of his home. Since Figaro had no center of education, Karen refused to move, and many of the townspeople scoffed at him, commenting that he was shunning his duties as a husband. But Karen stood behind him, being very strong in his absense, always understanding.
The two were a very loving couple, there for one another, always. No splinter could be found between them. No person could separate them. Karen's popularity as a learned scholar spread throughout the Freestates, Will's coveted works of art seen along the skylines of Edgar's realm. It is no surprise, then, with their high standing in the city and their loving nature, that they would start a family.
Natalia Emily Shire was born to them four years after they took their vows, a strong and healthy girl with a full head of her father's thin, blonde hair and her mother's piercing violet eyes.
Imperial rule became a strong influence on their lives when Natalia was five... while Will was away planning several additions to the eastern edge of South Figaro...
Karen and Natalia were alone in their house when they received word. Maranda had come under imperial rule but, as of yet, no plans for martial law were instituted.
"An Imperial general?" asked Karen to the messanger at her door, bearing a notice from the general himself. Karen, the knowledgable and respected history professor of the city of Maranda was being summoned to the general's side. All communications with the city's leaders were ignored- the mysterious stranger only wanted to talk to Karen Shire.
After writing a brief letter to her husband, Karen breathed softly and kissed her daughter goodbye. Everyone knew how... affectionate these Imperial types could be...
Leo was a tall, muscular man with a flat, yellow buzzcut and gentle eyes. His smile was warm and caring, his skin a rich and earthy tan. Karen felt safe, instantly, as she entered his room. It was not full of soldiers and weaponry as she might have guessed, but with books and wonderful works of art. In the corner, a young woman was taking some books off the shelves. Her back was turned towards Karen, but her skin was very pale, her long ponytail a very peculiar shade of green.
When the girl turned around, her arms were full of books. She sat at the table with a tall glass of white wine which she sipped generously, and without a word, smiled towards Karen.
Leo bade the professor to sit, and she did. "I am General Leonard Kaporie... first Imperial General of Vector." He waved a hand toward the girl on his right. "That is my associate, experienced Magitek Knight, Terra Branford."
Terra nodded once, and Karen returned the nod. "General, I hate to be a nuisance, but I... what is this about?"
Terra set one of the books before Karen and spoke. Her voice was soft and gentle, the Vectoran accent ringing like a slight winter breeze. "Karen... Leo and I know so little about the world outside Gestahl's empire. And we're so curious... all our travelling is on business alone."
Karen blushed. "You... are an Imperial soldier?"
"Is that so hard to believe?" Terra smirked, throwing a wisp of emerald hair behind her ear.
"I just didn't think they allowed women in their ranks..."
Terra chuckled. "You'd be surprised."
Leo poured Karen a glass of wine, which she cautiously refused saying, "I don't drink." Leo nodded, took the wine for himself, and motioned towards the book. "Anyway, as Terra was saying, we're both history buffs and... we wish to drink at the well of your knowledge. If you don't mind, that is."
Karen laughed out loud as she reached for the book in front of her. She shook her head, adjusting her glasses onto the bridge of her nose. "My town IS under siege, isn't it?"
Leo shrugged. "That doesn't mean we kill everyone. Our orders were to hold Maranda under Imperial rule." He cast his gentle gaze at the beautiful green-haired girl. "Besides, it would be a crime among crimes for bloodshed to fall on the eyes of my lovely accomplice."
The letters continued to come in from Maranda, day by day, and Will's fear shrunk to nothing more than an anxious quiver. He missed his wife terribly, but his job was not yet finished with Edgar. It was March, and the king would be coming to survey the progress on the buildings.
It was the first time Will would actually meet Edgar face to face.
The king was not a doting old man as he would have expected, but a very attractive man in his mid twenties, with long hair with a shade remniscient of Will's own, and an ornate blade hanging at his side. On each arm was a beautiful desert flower, a sign that the king was quite the ladies' man (or at least had enough money to hire some lovely wenches).
"My lord Edgar," said will, bowing low.
"Stand up, Will. The more you bow, the less work you get done. Now... let's see..."
Will took his lord around the city, showing him the additions that were finished... the theatre was nearing completion... the inn was getting another story... Will's genius was making the town sparkle. The economy was booming due to all the new jobs. Spirits were at an all time high. While eating dinner with the king in his own tiny room in the city, Will would have forgotten all about the threat of the Empire, if not for the letters of his wife sitting just withing eyeshot.
Edgar was not to miss such signs. "You're from Maranda, eh Will?" Will nodded. "My wife and daughter live there, my lord. I've been very anxious ever since Gestahl stepped in."
Edgar nodded. "That can be assumed. Will... don't worry so much. Figaro is allied with Vector, but they will not allow the destruction of the cities there. It's a stressful time for us all..." he chuckled. "Just remember this. Whatever anxiousness you think YOU'VE got, the kings of this world feel ten thousand times that. Let us do the worrying for you."
Will nodded. "Thank you, my liege."
The study lessons were going very smoothly, and consistantly for about a month now. They had moved from Leo's quarters in the inn to the Shire household, where little Natalia was included in the schoolings. Leo and Terra were very popular throughout the city. It didn't seem like Maranda had been siezed at all... the soldiers stood their posts, but were not armed with anything above a simple short sword. The democratic government of the Freestates was gone, but a small council had been elected within the city itself... in essence, Leo had saved the townsfolk from the eternal bickering of the Freestates' representatives.
For these reasons, the battle was terrible. A small force of 3000 Freestate soldiers attacked Maranda, hoping to release it from Imperial rule. Rather than seeing his men slaughtered in combat, Leo left willingly after only a minor skirmish along the beaches.
Terra gave Natalia one last kiss on the forehead, and Imperial rule disappeared from Maranda for the time being. Karen almost wept at the fact that she had lost her gentle and trusting students.
Freestate soldiers sprouted up all over the city, and were much more demanding than Leo's had been. Two men even forced Karen into giving them the upstairs of her house- since Will was gone, the two Shire women could easily live in the rooms downstairs. The university was closed, the students forced into arms for the protection of their city.
Everyone waited, breathless, for Vector's inevitable return.
Postal services stopped... and though she continued to write them, Karen's letters never reached farther than her doorstep.
Somewhat nervous, Will stayed his ground hin Edgar's employ. He had not heard of Leo's defeat, could not imagine the terrors at hand.
Could not fathom Vector's reply.
July. Under the scorching heat of the sun, the icy cold Snow Queen Celes Chere was perched with her army atop a rocky outlook. All of Maranda, hers for the taking. Leo had failed. Gestahl... trusted her now with Maranda's fall.
She strapped on her white metal grieves and fastened her white glinting breastplate into place with the white leather straps. Her sword was covered in glowing mythril, the sign of a high level runic warrior. Her snowy blonde hair and ghostly cape whipped around her face as she flung herself up onto her albino chocobo. She drew her blade and pointed at Maranda. She smiled.
All 3000 Freestate soldiers stationed in Maranda had stained the ground with their blood. The young male troops drafted in from the university, the students who so lovingly called their beautiful teacher the "coolest nerd in town," were all dead. The volunteer merchants and those who resisted Celes' attack, slain, rotting where they had fallen.
Celes, the unfeeling Snow Queen, cast her silvery shadow over the crowd of people gathered in the town square. The stench of the sun beating relentlessly on the morbid gore of battle was beginning to creep into the air. Celes calmly sighed. She said, softly, her voice chilling the entire crowd, "Where Leo has failed, I shall succeed."
With that, the townspeople were forced to begin dragging the dead or near-dead soldiers out of the town's borders, and forced to drop them in mass graves.
Karen and Natalia wept as they pushed one of the most promising history enthusiasts in Maranda into the heaping pit.
Will added the finishing touches to the South Figaro inn.
Vectorian martial law was cruel. Karen and Natalia were separated, their home seized and used for an imperial storehouse. From Maranda, the Empire could launch a campaigne against the entire realm of the Kohlingen Freestates. Jidoor, Zozo, and countless hamlets in between would be taken, giving Gestahl the foothold he needed to get into the realm of King Edgar of Figaro. Thus, Celes lifted her icy fist for not a second, her blade sunk deep into the heart of each Marandian, chilling them to the bone.
Fate was cruel on that day in mid-December, three weeks before Will's job in South Figaro was completed.
Karen and Natalia found a few hours every afternoon to be with each other. The soldiers allowed it, as Karen was viewed only as a helpless woman who would die without her meaningless child. Karen let them believe it- who cared, so long as she could hold her baby in her arms.
One day, walking down a busy street, little Natalia was busy ignoring her mother's conversation, concentrating on bouncing the ball her mother had given her on the cobblestones of the road. The ball hit one of the stones at an awkward angle and shot off into the crowd, Natalia laughing and chasing it all the way. Karen was enjoying the sport- her daughter was happy for the time being, and that was all that counted.
The ball stopped in between two broken stones in the street- under Celes' feet. The general spiraled downward, cracking her lip against the hard ground, squealing in pain.
Everything went silent. Natalia's laughter died. Karen's heart stopped. No. It couldn't be. Celes was a woman, could understand the play of a child, could forgive her. Like Terra- Terra understood.
Celes stood up.
Yes, she was certain- the general would brush herself off, pick up the ball, and return it. Like nothing had happened. No one is so cruel as all of that. No one so cruel.
Celes looked at the little girl, her head cocked slightly, her eyes thinning. She touched her bottom lip- the crimson blood staining her pure white glove.
So what? She's bleeding. It can't hurt that bad. She's a Magitek Knight, right? She'll heal her wound and I'll be holding Natalia in no time...
The 5-year old girl gasped. Her skin began to turn pale. Celes rolled her fingers in the whispering winter wind...
Karen tried to scream to move to shout to help to run to kill but was frozen in horror. Before her eyes, her only child's pearly skin was covered in the frost of the winter winds, her eyes rolled back, her lips turned blue and lifeless.
Finally, the child collapsed into the street, her now cold body making a sickening crack against the stone ground.
"Who's child is this?" asked Celes, as her spell came to completion.
Karen could not move. She was lifeless, a shell, without hope and without purpose.
"Who's child is this!?" demanded the general, slicing the air with her mythril blade. Her eyes fell on Professor Shire and thinned. The eerie glowing blade resheathed itself. "You. Branford told me about you and your little brat. Come here."
Karen wanted to move, to strangle and kill, to destroy this angel of death who had stolen her lovely baby, but could not. The ground would not bid her feet passage.
"If you don't come here you will share her fate!"
Karen did not move, rather, the world gave way to her. Everything moved towards Celes, the focal point, hatred building inside the young professor, hatred she had never known.
She was a foot away from Celes, could feel the cool aura of magic surrounding her icy sword. "You would have done well to have taught your child to stay out of my way." With a strong swipe, Celes threw Karen to the ground, and continued onward.
Her cape blew in the wind.
The townspeople tried to console her, to help her, to warm her, but Karen could see none of them.
Could see nothing but her daughter, tiny and lifeless, encased in a sarcophogus of pure ice.
A week passed.
Karen did not speak. She hardly ate or sleep. The other women in the house she now lived in cried for her, but Karen Shire did not shed one single tear. She wrote to Will, she wrote for hours, she wrote for days...
She told him a hundred times over what had happened, a hundred different ways. Even after the block of ice that had been her daughter was long melted away in the daylight sun, Karen saw it there, staring at her with white eyes.
Elsewhere in the city, a small rebellion had arose. No one knew who or what was involved, just that it was coming, someday soon.
This word reached the Snow Queen as well...
The cracking of flames all around her awoke Karen Shire one night, her room orange with death and her roomates frantically screaming around, trying to find enough clothing to keep warm in the crisp winter air. Karen took no clothing besides the nightgown she was already wearing, her eyeglasses, and a small knife.
Chaos in the city. Soldiers killed, left and right. A child, now a stain on the cobblestones. The old blind merchant, burning alive on the tip of a flaming arrow. Karen clasped her knife close, approaching the town square, where the Snow Queen stood... watched, enjoying the town's destruction.
The knife was ice cold in Karen's hand. Hatred and lies. She lugned, jumped at the general with a banshee's wail, felt the sword of the Snow Queen bite into her arm, felt the intense cold as she fell into a snowbank and the cold white ice ate through her thin nightgown.
Celes was looking into Karen's eyes. The glasses were broken... Karen could not see Celes... but she felt the tip of the mythril blade pressed against the strained expanse of skin between her chin and her neck.
"Your assassination was futile, it would seem," said Celes. "And so was your rebellion. Maranda will soon be just another black X on the map, another mark in the wake of the rolling tides of time."
She laughed out loud, unkindly, as Karen let go of all hope. "But I must ask you this... Professor... why did you attack me? Did you think you could win?"
Karen spoke softly and calmly. She was no longer sad. She was no longer angry. She thought of Will, oh God Will...
"You took away my daughter, the love of my life..."
General Celes Chere shook her head. "You didn't love that putrid girl. If you had, you would have leapt upon me in the street, thrown me against a wall, strangled me. And, with the fury of a hurt mother in your bones, by God, you would have won!"
"No..." said Karen. "It is you who are wrong... you are mistaken... about me... it is you, who cannot love. You, who are incapable of feeling."
Celes shut her eyes. She drunk in each of Karen's words, painfully feeling out the truth in them...
"It is you, who has to go back to Vector, await more orders to kill and burn and hurt. It is you, who cannot love, because you will not allow yourself to love... it is you who could not love that little girl, and cannot love me, and cannot love Maranda. Magitek is not the reason you're so cold..."
Celes' blade crossed Karen's neck, a crimson fountain sprung forth from the professor's jugular. She looked at the corpse, bleeding from arm and neck, the coppery fluid staining the pure snowy ground.
When Will returned to his homeland, he expected to find his wife and child safe in the care of General Leo. He found ruins. A few charred stragglers. And a grave.
The grave of Karen and Natalia Shire.
The mark of Celes Chere upon his soul.
He sunk to his knees, weeping.
As most wounds do, Will's healed with time. Over a year had passed, now, since the mad god Kefka has risen to power and scorched the earth. It was the first time he had been to the glorious realm of Maranda since it's siege, since there was nothing left but ashes.
The town was almost prosperous now, as prosperous as it could be in such an evil world. His wife's grave was still there, fresh flowers growing from the holy soil.
Before he could say a word, the wind whipped around him, a fierce gust of immeasurable wind.
In the sky above him, an airship... the townspeople were ecstatic... "The heros have returned to thwart Kefka!" they shouted. "They're here to avenge Gestahl, to free us all!"
The airship landed with much difficulty near the entrance to the cemetary, in a large grassy plain which used to be the university in happier times. A door near the bottom of the unweildly craft opened, and in the rising dust four shadows emerged. One by one they came into view. A noble and strong knight, with raven hair and a long katana... a scrawny man with scraggly white hair and a black cloak...
...King Edgar. General Celes.
Will gasped, feeling all the rage wash back into his veins, but he dared not act. He slunked into the shadows, hidden, where he could both see and hear the newcomers.
"I say," said the knight, stretching. "It IS good to be out of that wretched airship. What say ye to walk around a bit, fellows?"
He tried to step away, but Celes caught his shoulder. She shook her head playfully, handing him a small bundle of letters. "You have some business to finish, Cyan. A girlfriend is a lot of responsibility, yeah?"
Cyan grunted. "I never shall like you, Celes. I... hate it terribly when you're right."
Cyan started off in the direction of some residentials while the man in the black cloak yawned deeply and, listening to the coins jingling in his pocket, headed for the bar.
Celes looked thoughtfully into the graveyard and, with Lord Edgar close behind, entered it.
She stopped at the tomb of Karen Shire, kneeling before it serinely. Edgar waited patiently, knowing her words would be painful.
"Karen... thank you for... for showing me the truth... about myself... about my feelings... and... I'm sorry... I didn't believe you... back then..."
Will couldn't believe it- a tear glinted in her eye.
When she stood and turned around, she fell into Edgar's arms, sobbing. He consoled her simply: "We'll find him, Celes. We'll find him."
Wiping the tears from her eyes, Celes forced a chuckle. "Let's... get to the bar before Setzer drinks himself under the table..."
Edgar nodded in reply.
Before he could leave the graveyard, Edgar was stopped by Will, who had witnessed the impossible... the unthinkable... "My lord Edgar..."
Edgar bowed his head but did not turn. "Will Shire... I know what you're thinking right now. I know how you feel right now. The Empire has done terrible things to us- to all of us- but we have a greater enemy to fight now."
The look in the king's eye, when Will at long last beheld it, was very different. He spoke softly... "Her heart is cold, Will. Cold as ice. Maybe it's too late for Celes. Maybe it's too late for you. But it's not to late for this planet. And that's why we fight... we're going to fight..."
As Edgar walked away, he chortled under his breath and said back, "Funny. Celes was to be excecuted in the underground prison you designed, Will Shire."
Will looked at his wife's grave.
Born from and buried in the soil of Maranda.