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PG-13 Fallen Stars Among the Owls

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The ground was shaking. Through the open door, the scent of carbonic combustion congested the air. The ground rumbled again, groaning restlessly like a sleepy giant. Next to me, the youngest of us tried to re-balance himself, his tail flinging wildly like a metronome--missing every beat as the floor bent and cracked until he finally fell to his knees. Extraordinary sounds amplified through the small room, mimicking the sound we often heard when an enhancement machine broke a fuse. I placed my hands over my ears and walked out into the frame of the doorway. I heard the youngest of us say something, but I could not understand him. 

It was different. It was strangely pleasant.

Ribbons of red energy rippled across the blue sky. Like an electrical current, it struck anything with a positive charge, moving with much grace and unpredictability. Small pebbles from the door frame fell onto my head, onto my clothes, and jumped at my feet. The warmth of the fire clung to my skin. I felt the youngest of us grab the end of my tail for support.

Red. Everything was red.

I took a few more steps from the doorway and surveyed my surroundings. The others were also scouting for answers to the recent disturbance. We all seemed to catch the others gazes in hopes for some answers, or at least for some clues. Colony structures far off were screaming, crumbling, and then plummeting hundreds of feet to Terra's deserted plains. I began to realize the uneasy swaying of our own structure, as the ribbons continued to strike our cousins down.

The small encampment of Bran Bal was ablaze in an auburn glow. It was pleasant.

The youngest of us made it to my side and grasped the side of the doorway with both of his hands. He looked out at the sky with his mouth slightly ajar. It was nice. Had the time finally come?

"Come on, everybody! We have to get out of here! Now!"

The ground rumbled again, this time dislodging a piece of the doorway. It fell next to my feet and cracked like an egg. There was a pressure on my foot and a pain that shot through my leg. The light was pleasant.

"Dammit! Dagger, we need to get them out of here. Can you help him?"

Something pressed into me. I heard someone say something, but I couldn't understand. The ribbon in the sky moved without judgment--without a plotted course. It was truly impossible to calculate. It was fascinating.

"Hey, move it! Let's go!"

There he was again. That stranger. He looked like us, but he was not one of us. He was our superior. I knew because it was what was always known. It was known because he would save Terra. I followed his voice as if his words strung lines to my legs. He knew the way. Quickly, the ground rose up to my face. My head hit the solid stone.

"You take him; I'll help her. Hurry!"

Gentle hands levied under my arms and lifted my body up, and in the process dislodged my foot from the heavy stone that had fallen onto it. He held me up until he knew I could walk. I wanted to run. I wanted to run toward his voice. I wanted to do what he said. It would fulfill our one desire.

"Can you walk?" He said. There was a strange manner to his voice. It was unsettling.


"Okay, good. Listen, we have to go as quickly as possible. We need to get everybody out of here, so try to keep up." He moved away from me, his hands leaving my side, his tail waving behind him as he ran to the next one of us that needed help. I saw the youngest being carried away by the female in orange. I had to follow. I ran. I ran although it hurt. I ran because it was what had to be done. We ran until we came to the platform. The Invincible was waiting above us, transporting us in groups. I felt something in my stomach, but renounced it. Terra was falling apart. Soon Bran Bal would fall. Was this the time?

A wave of energy enclosed my body. The last I saw of Terra was a cloud of flames on a distant pillar, reaching up to the sky grasping for a strength it would never receive again. It was entrancing.

When I arrived on the ship, strange people were managing wounds on some of us. I saw the youngest lying on the ground next to a young female in yellow. I walked away from the teleporter, finding it increasingly hard to maneuver my body as I had once been able to. My left foot dragged noisily across the steel floor. However, the sounds of the crisis in the room was near deafening. I took my place next to the two children, watching as the young girl took a soft cloth from out of her pocket and wrapped it around the youngest of us' leg. He was bleeding profusely. She gently placed her hand on his leg and a green glow sparkled across his thigh.

"What are you doing?" I said.

The girl jumped; she obviously had not noticed my presence. "What do you mean 'what am I doing?'!" She gently put the youngest of us' leg down and stood up. She was not much taller when she was erect. "I'm trying to help your friend, you idiot!" She jumped up once, swinging her arms in an over-exaggerated gesture.

"Can you not see that he is going to die?"

She looked up at me with her eyes narrowed. I noted that she had a horn--strange for a person to have on their forehead. "He is not! He just needs help! Which is a lot more than what you're doing right now." She knelled again and placed her hand on his thigh. The cool green aura formed over the injury. All I could smell was the blood pouring from his arteries.

I looked at the youngest. He was conscious, and well aware of his predicament. But there was something in his eyes that failed to make sense to me. I had never seen him like that before.

"It's going to be okay! You and your friends will be safe when we get back home." The girl said. She cast one more spell on his injury, her face delved in concentration on her task. I watched as his leg unintentionally twitched, and grimaced the unexpected sound that came from his mouth. He screeched--the sound deluging discomfort to the ship's interior. I held my ears again.

The Invincible shook violently. The gravity was increasing. 

"We're almost home!" The girl shouted her key of knowledge. But what was home? Somewhere, possibly in the engine room, I heard the ship revving louder as it pressed on in its teleportation. I realized that "home" must have meant Gaia. The source of Terra's souls--our definition of existence. But Terra...

My body felt heavier as the gravity continued to climb into the two-to-three times normal, applying more pressure to my injured foot. I lost the ability to control the pain and fell to the ground. I held my foot with one careful hand as I kept my eyes on the others. The ship vibrated at a stronger frequency. More of us were vocalizing our discomfort--our suffering. The youngest was wailing wildly, his eyes clear as the blue lights of Terra. They struck me. I could not breathe.

All at once, the ship stopped. In the abruptness of normal gravity, we were flung vertically into the air. A flush of water breached the side of the ship, and the vibration stopped. The room had grown silent. We all listened to the rivulets of liquid run off the sides of the ship. Some of us mumbled words. Some of us groaned discomfort. Some of us, like I, were silent still. I carefully crawled toward the edge of the mezzanine and looked down into the glass below. It was blue, dark blue, like the blue that he was wearing when he came for us. It was flowing and surging. It was imperfect in its design--it never stayed the same from one second to the other. Was this what Gaia's water looked like?

I turned my head back to the interior to see the girl in yellow tapping the youngest of us' body. He was sprawled on the floor, silent now, motionless. Red covered his leg, and encircled his body. It covered her hands and the rag. "Is he dead?" I said. She looked up at me and didn't say a word.

So this was home.

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"We're not going to be able to feed all of these things, sir."


Our leader, No. 288 shook his head. "They're people, not things."


"People with mouths, sir."


"Honestly, No. 930. We don't even know if they actually eat, yet."


I crossed my arms angrily. "We don't know anything about them yet, and that's what concerns me, sir."


"I told you to stop calling me sir."


The two of us stood on the crest of a small hill on the outskirts of the Black Mage Village, watching as the wave of travelers made their way out of the Dead Forest and towards our home. Our home. Small, defenseless... ill-prepared for this.


"I don't know why you'd open our gates to them so easily. We know nothing of them nor the world they've descended from."


No. 288 chuckled. "We know they're from another planet called Terra, which was located inside of our own planet. We know that they hailed from a village called Bran Bal, spending most of their lives operating machinery that produced more of their kind-"


"You know what I mean. We know nothing of these people or what they'll look to gain from us. We can't allow ourselves to be taken advantage again, this time via offerings of charity."


No. 288 turned and looked up at me. "So what would you have us do? Turn them away to the fiends of the mist?"


I gestured to the floating craft that had transported them here. "Look at the size of that thing. Surely, if they couldn't live in it, then they use it to find somewhere else to go."


No. 288 shook his head again, sighing. "We're not giving them a place to live."


I was incredulous. "Really? I didn't think it'd be so easy to-"


"What we're giving them is a place to call home."


With that, he turned to walk back to the village. I took one last look at the approaching aliens before hurrying after him.


"Sir, I know what I'm saying must seem monstrous, but I'm just trying to keep our best interests at heart."


He chuckled again, as I caught up to him. "How do you figure these aren't our best interests?"


"Sir, you heard Master Vivi's description of these beings. Emotionless, stoic, but alive and sapient. They may have needs just as any living being, and may not know fear enough to do anything to fulfill them."


"One could have once said the same about us."


I stopped. "That's different."


He stopped as well, a few paces ahead, but didn't face me. "We both know that's not true."


I looked down at my hands, embarassed. Without warning, I was thrust into memories of the things I'd done before I became self-aware.


He was right, of course. I suddenly felt sorry, as though I'd forced him to relive memories as well. When I looked up, he had already begun walking again, so I hurried to catch up to him.


"You're right, sir. I apologize for doubting your judgment."


"You should always doubt my judgment, No. 930. You're not a soldier anymore, and I'm no general. We're all in this together, you know."


"I know that, sir. It's just... difficult. Not knowing what to do."


We reached the gates of the village, an excited crowd of other black mages forming around it. The aliens were close to arriving.


"I know what you mean. It's frightening, and difficult, to have to determine our own path through life."


No. 288 stopped a few meters away and turned to me once more.


"When you look at these people, what do you see?"


I looked to the aliens, who were finally beginning to arrive. Some of them had been hurt, clutching to others for support. Some of them were carried, motionless, beneath stained sheets of cloth. Some of them looked at us, some of them looked at the village. 


"They all look... afraid."


No. 288 put a hand on my shoulder. "You see? They're not so different from us. Now, let's go say hello."

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Everything about this world was different, yet similar. A contradiction that is truthfully hard to derive any sense. Terra and Gaia had always been connected. In terms of energy, they were essentially the same. Recycled and cleansed, sharing one circulatory system to create living souls. It was our job to revive Terra from the lost souls of Gaia. They would relive their lives through us on our side of the universe. It was all we knew. It was what we were created for. It was our glorious purpose.


However, being here now--feeling the warmer climate, visualizing a new variety of colors, sensing a whole new collection of sounds--made it hard to believe our two worlds had anything to do with one another. Ours was so simple. Deprived of unnecessary sensory stimulations. This whole world seems made of unencessity.


Is this world what drove Kuja to become unstable?


Once the Invincible regained its balance and started on its course, the low hum of the engine vibrating around us, the stranger who was one of us explained his plan. He told us that there were others like us--others that looked like the strange young male with the pointed hat. He called them Black Mages. They too were created. Like us. Another connection across our worlds. A collection of harvested beings, sharing a similar fate, yet so vastly different. Did he desire to comfort us with this notion? We do not need to be taken care of or coddled. Our lives have lost their meaning the moment we crossed through Shimmering Island. We do not need to be comforted.


We need to perish.


The youngest of us sits cradled and bloodied in my arms, his coppery fragrance irritating my nose, though not nearly as much as the scent of the trees around us. Their golden leaves hanging precariously from their branches, some twisting off and drifting silently to the ground, dead and motionless like the boy within my arms. We were told to carry the dead and dying with us so we can care for them or honor them. I do not understand the purpose of these actions. If they have stopped moving, they are of no use and must be disposed. If they are weak or damaged, they are unfit to be vessels. Something that should be recycled has become yet another unneeded necessity.


The one that was one of us, the aliens called him by Zidane, told us that this was Owl Forest. When asked what an owl was, he pantomimed a large screeching beast, causing some of the younger ones to gasp slightly. When one of us asked what a forest was, he became noticeably agitated and shook his head. "Forget it." He said, turning his back to us. He stretched his arms out and pointed to a path through the forest. "Through there is Black Mage Village. Your new home." We were all silent, besides some of us that were injured. The fatigue of traveling across the sky and land was wearing heavily upon all of us. He seemed to take notice and said, his voice low and soft, "We'll be there soon, guys."


We breached the village's entrance just as the tree tops were lit aflame with warm hues from the setting sun. It hurt my eyes, but not on the same magnitude as the blue light of Bran Bal. The light hurt us all the way through--straight to the bone. This light was warm and irradiating, but only brought a sensation to the areas on the surface. It was different but similar.


We are greeted by several of these Black Mages, who quickly take our injured and deceased away from us, ushering some of the others away that are about to collapse from exhaustion. The youngest of us' load is removed from me, and I sigh softly as I am pleased to not have to carry around burden of debris. I look across the crowd before us and recognize that they all look like the one they call Vivi--only much stockier and taller. Some carry staves, some carry nothing, but all of them are looking at us. Their yellow glowing eyes adorned with a sense of curiosity. Some even distrust. We are, after all, invaders upon their enclosed haven.


"Hey, No. 288!" Zidane said cheerfully, trotting over to the mage that had a large scalloped staff clenched within his hand. The mage nodded in recognition. "Thank you for letting the genomes stay with you and the other black mages." He paused and looked to the ground, the rest of his friends starting to pour out from the forest, helping my people as they entered. The short female in yellow was casting a spell on one of the fainted male genomes. "I understand what they're going through..." He trailed off, turning to look at us, his eyes locking with mine momentarily before he turned his attention back to No. 288. "So I know what you guys are going through, too... And I think this will be perfect for all of us."


Perfect. There is no such thing. Especially not on this world.

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