Final Fantasy VI
The Greatest Treasure
By CastGuardian [ 10-19-03 ]

The Greatest Treasure

DISCLAIMER: Final Fantasy™ and its characters are property of SquareSoft LTD. I did not create the characters or the world in this fanfic and the purpose of this fanfic is to pay homage to the greatness that is Final Fantasy III/VI.

WARNING: This fanfic is rated PG for intense emotional situations. Do not read if you have not completed the game yet.

Part One: Calling

Locke Cole lay contentedly by the shore on the edge of the town of Mobliz. Of course, the shore had only gotten there just over a year ago, when Kefka unleashed a terrible evil upon the world. What was once a backwater village on the Veldt was now a colony for orphans, headed by the well meaning Terra Branford. He had decided to pay her a visit just to check up on her and her kids. It had been only a month since Kefka had fallen and the world was slowly beginning to heal itself. He could smell it in the air as he gazed into the sky. He knew from the moment that Terra let her hair down on the Falcon that there was, indeed, hope for rebuilding the world from the ground up. He then began to wonder how Rachel would have reacted to his newfound heroism. He had saved the world and she would have been his bride. She would have been rubbing elbows with royalty, imperial generals, notorious gamblers, and legendary knights. He would have loved to see the look on her face when he walked through that door in the town of Kohlingen, knowing that her knight in shining armor had returned to her. A tear came to his eye as he continued thinking about Rachel. No matter how much he tried not to convince himself of it, he was still deeply in love with her and missed her terribly.

The only women he knew in the world well enough to start anything with were, of course, Terra and Celes. However, he had not seen Celes for about two weeks. As she desired, she decided to wipe away the anguish and despair of her past life as an imperial general and start anew. Ironically, she had chosen to take up a career as an opera singer after her debut performance in “Aria de Mezzo Carattere” received rave reviews. The Impresario had pressured for her to return ever since she, along with Sabin, Edgar, and Terra, had rid the Opera House of the Dirt Dragon. Upon her return, she was whisked away into a new world of daylong rehearsals, voice lessons, dance lessons, and acting classes. She had no time for anything else, not even those who helped her attain this lofty position. She was officially a diva. Terra, on the other hand, was much more down to earth. She returned to Mobliz after Kefka's defeat, as she had promised to the children. Since then, she had allowed the children to go outside to play more often than she had before. There were no more threats from either the Light of Judgment or Phunbaba. She had also been helping Katarin raise her newborn baby girl, whom she had named Hope. The name was supposed to be representative of the hope and joy that Terra had brought to them all in their time of need and would be a reminder of how they would all look forward to the future.

Changes had been made to the town itself, as well. The house where Terra and the orphans originally resided had been repaired with the help of Sabin and Cyan. The lower level was now devoted entirely to the children, serving as their bedroom and play area when the weather was bad. In addition, there was a small room for the adult who was supposed to be on night duty, in case that any of the children had nightmares or wet their beds. The upper floor served as the kitchen, where Terra and Katarin took turns at preparing the meals. The second house, where Katarin had given birth to Hope, now served as the dormitory for whichever adults were not on night duty.

Locke's daydream about Rachel was cut short by a splash of water to the face.

"Hey!" he shouted as he looked over in the direction of the splash. It was a group of the orphans that Terra cared for. He then remembered why he had come to Mobliz, not only to see Terra. He loved kids. He had wanted to have his own children with Rachel and raise a happy family. This, he knew, was more valuable to him than any treasure that he would ever find. He chuckled in response as the children giggled back. "All right, you caught me sleeping."

"Were you really asleep, Uncle Locke?" asked a girl. Locke recalled that her name was Mina. She was about six years old and looked amazingly like Relm. "We're sorry if we woke you up."

"Nah. I was just sitting here thinking about something."

"Probably about Mama." said a young boy in a sly sort of voice. "You're in love with her, aren't you?" It was Kyle, the wisecrack of the bunch. Kyle was about the same age as Mina, only a bit shorter and definitely more obnoxious and annoying. It was just all a part or growing up and being a child, however.

Locke, being as good-natured as ever, responded. "Now, Kyle, you know that Terra, er, your 'Mama' and I are just very good friends. We went through a lot together in the past year or so."

"That's right,” said Mina. "Mama told me the same thing. Uncle Locke is here to help her take care of us. Not because he's in love with Mama."

"If you say so,” responded Kyle, who rolled his eyes into the back of his head.

"Children! Lunch is ready!" called Terra as she emerged from the first house. As Kyle headed off towards his lunch, Locke followed. Suddenly, he felt a tug at his jacket. Mina stood there.

"Uncle Locke," asked Mina, "how long are you gonna stay here?"

Locke looked down and smiled. "As long as your Mama needs me here, I'll be here." Smiling, Mina hugged him. The hug made Locke feel warm inside. He knew where he belonged. He loved the children here just as much as Terra did. Still, though, there was that part of him that longed to seek out new adventures and find new treasures. And, of course, he wanted to see Celes more than ever. He knew that he had his best chance with Celes, if he wanted to find a new woman to be with. Terra was too preoccupied with the orphans for him to be able to be alone with her. He also wanted to see Celes again because she wanted the same thing that he did, essentially. He wanted to forget Rachel and finally set himself free from the chains of his past that still bound him as strongly as ever. Celes started anew, so why couldn't he? He patted Mina on the head. "Come on. Our lunches will get cold," he said as he and the child headed towards Terra.

"I see that you and Uncle Locke have been spending some time together," said Terra.

"Yup! Uncle Locke is lots of fun," said Mina. "Mama, will we ever get to meet any of your other friends?"

"Maybe, if they choose to visit us too." Terra responded.

"I hope they're all like Uncle Locke," stated Mina as she looked up at Locke again. Locke began to blush as Mina went scampering off. He smiled and looked at the loud, messy table of children.

"You know, they really do love you." said Terra, crossing her arms and standing beside Locke.

"I know they do. I love them too. I've only been here for three days and I'm already taken by them." Locke then paused. He knew that this moment would not last forever. "But, Terra, as much as I would love to stay here, I can't."

"Oh, I understand, Locke. After all, you're an adventurer. The world and all it's mysteries are out there calling your name." she said sarcastically. Locke then began to walk towards the shore again, turning his back to Terra.

"They are, Terra. I can hear them. But, there's more out there than just adventure and treasure. I'm sure you know what I mean."

"Well, what else are you looking for?" she asked as she approached him again.

Locke sighed. He didn't know how Terra would react when he said this, but he knew that it had to be said. He shrugged

"Oh, I don't know. Redemption, maybe?"

Terra knew what was going on. Locke was still dwelling on his past. He still had not forgiven himself with what had happened to Rachel all those years ago. Edgar was right. Locke held on to all his memories, even the bad ones, for dear life, never wanting to let go. He was still tortured with what should have been ancient history. Terra went over to him and put her hand on his shoulder.

"Locke, you did as much as you could to help Rachel. You ventured into the lost Phoenix Cave to seek a thousand-year old piece of magicite thought lost to the world. Can't you come to terms with yourself? Can't you make peace with yourself?"

Locke turned to her. "Ironic that this is coming from you."

"That it may be, but it is the truth. When you finally find your peace, like I did, you'll find the answer you're looking for." said Terra, putting her hands on her hips. She was right, and Locke knew it too. He had to place everything he had ever felt about Rachel and move on. He then remembered what he had said to Kefka one month ago, that he had come to terms with celebrating life and the living and not unearthing pain.

"You think that someone will be willing to help me along the way?" he asked.

"It depends on who that someone is."

Locke paused. "Celes, maybe?" Terra smiled.

"She should know better than any of us about wanting to forget the past. I still can't believe that she became an opera singer. I didn't even know she could sing."

"Neither did I, until we heard her." he paused. "Edgar, Sabin, and I, that is." Locke then remembered the opening performance of "Aria de Mezzo Carattere." He remembered sitting there with Edgar, Sabin, and the Impresario watching Celes make her debut. He remembered seeing her in the dressing room before it all started. How she looked in her dress, how her hair was done, how graceful she looked on stage as she moved. "She was so beautiful."

A flag went up in Terra's mind. She could see the look in his eyes as he remembered the experience. "Locke?" asked Terra. "Do you have feelings for Celes?" She saw Locke turn his back again and walk further away.

"It's...It's just that...you're right. She does understand me. She understands me better than anyone else does."

"You didn't answer my question. Do you have feelings for her, Locke?"

Locke was cornered. He wanted to say that he didn't have feelings for Celes, but then he would be lying not only to Terra, but also to himself. How was he ever going to understand himself better if he kept putting up lies to block out other lies? He had to tell Terra the truth. It was all he could do.

"Yes. I do, I suppose." he said as he looked back at Terra.

"Well then, Locke Cole, I think you should go to her. Tell her how you feel." Locke shied away again.

"I'm afraid to, Terra. What if I screw up again?" Locke could feel the frustration build within him. "What if I can't protect her?" He was nearly in tears as he turned away from Terra and looked down at the ground. "What if...What if I fail her too?"

"If you keep thinking like that, you will." She came up behind him and hugged him around his waist. "Believe in yourself, Locke. You once loved a girl whom you thought was the most wonderful girl in the world; the only one you ever wanted to be with. Surely, you can do it again. Don't fear failure." She felt Locke sigh heavily. He was obviously not the same person she met over a year ago. She then knew what she could say to cheer him up. "You were there for me when I needed you." Locke's head jumped up, Terra's embrace continuing. "I was completely helpless and afraid after I was left alone in Narshe. You helped me get over my fears. You didn't fail me." Locke felt a soothing comfort in Terra's voice. She believed in him, maybe even loved him for what he did for her. He finally broke her embrace, turned to her, and put his hand on her cheek.

"Terra. Thank you." He then removed his hand from her cheek, turned around again, and looked over his shoulder. "I think I can do this now."

"Locke, I know you can." she said as she smiled. "Besides, I'm sure Celes would love seeing you again." Terra hesitated to continue. She was unsure of whether or not she should point out to Locke that Celes would obviously return his feelings. She had been flirting with him pretty blatantly and was clearly in love with him. At least, that was the Celes she knew before Kefka's defeat. Now, who knows what might be going through her mind. She didn't want to put Locke in a false sense security and boost his confidence just to have him come crashing back down to earth. She went back over to him and started to fix his jacket collar. "You might want to get fixed up before you head to Jidoor and the Opera House. You know how they are over there."

"Yeah, you're right." He backed away from Terra and looked down at his dirty clothes. "I can't remember the last time I got some new clothes. These have lasted me a good while."

"Just remember this, lover boy." Terra stated. Locke looked at her curiously. "Stop trying to be a hero to every girl you meet and start being you." Terra then planted a light kiss on his cheek. When she was finished she spoke again. "You know I love you and admire you, Locke. But you belong with Celes. I have always thought that she was the one for you." Locke chuckled and smiled back.

"I appreciate your concern and your feelings, Terra."

"Anytime." she responded. They then gazed into each other's eyes, smiling. The moment was then interrupted by the sound of "Ooo-ing" from the children. Terra and Locke jumped in surprise. "Children!" said Terra.

"See! I told you that Uncle Locke was in love with Mama! They were kissing!" said Kyle. Locke looked at Terra.

"This one I'll let you handle." Locke said. Terra winked back. She had a plan.

"Oh, I will, Locke." she said looking at him. She then turned to the children. "Children, Uncle Locke has told me that he's been a very bad boy. I think we should punish him by giving him a bath!" Locke jumped again in surprise and gaped at Terra.

"What???!!!" he shouted.

"Children, get him!" shouted Terra as she pointed at Locke.

"Yeah!" yelled the children as they charged towards Locke, overpowering him. He fell to the ground and was flat on his back as he looked at Terra, who was covering her laugh with her hand.

"Oh, I'll get you for this one." he thought.

Part Two: Reunion

The Falcon blasted through the afternoon air with amazing speed. It’s owner, the world-famous gambler Setzer Gabbiani, was at the helm as usual. However, this time, he was not off in search of trouble and adventure. Locke had asked him to accompany him to Jidoor and the Opera House. They had their own reasons for going. Locke wished to see Celes to see if he could possibly start a new life with her…a life after Rachel, that is. Setzer was going because he had heard that Maria, the opera diva renowned as the queen of the stage, was slated to be performing along side Celes in the Opera House’s current production of “Rydia: Mystic Caller.” It was to be Celes’s second full production with the Opera House, if you count her one-day stint in “Aria de Mezzo Carattere” as her debut. Both were looking forward to seeing their beloveds again.

They were flying over Zozo, currently, and the sun was setting. It had been a week since Locke and Terra had spoken in Mobliz. The conversation still stood in his mind. He had made an important decision that day. He, like Celes, was going to start over on life and forget his past. Of course, his past was not nearly as tainted as Celes’s, she being a former imperial general who had committed some serious atrocities during her service. He kept hoping that Celes would be overjoyed to see him and that she hadn’t forgotten the feelings she once had for him. The key word there, Locke thought, was once. The thought never occurred to him until now that maybe she had changed. Maybe she had forgotten everything that happened, including saving the world alongside Locke. Maybe she had forgotten the moment that they shared together on board the airship that fateful day over a month ago as they flew over Kohlingen. Maybe she had forgotten how she held his hand and squeezed it as he stared down at Rachel’s house one last time. However, these were thoughts that Locke had to suppress if he was to be successful in his endeavor. Suddenly, Setzer spoke.

“Man, it’s great having you aboard again,” he said. Locke nodded in approval. “I’m sorry about not having the blackjack tables put in yet. Those dang repairmen are too lazy to do it.”

“That’s all right, Setzer. I’d probably end up losing my shirt to you.”

“Speaking of shirts, where in the world did you get that sorry excuse for opera attire?” Setzer was referring to the plumed silk shirt, dark wool pants, and leather overcoat that Locke was wearing. He had gotten them from Edgar, in Figaro Castle. He had gone there via Nikeah ferry the day after he left Mobliz. He went to Edgar and told his royal friend his plan to start anew with Celes. Edgar, showing full support of Locke’s moving on in life, put all of Figaro Castle’s resources at his disposal to do so. All Locke had asked for was some formal attire to wear in Jidoor and around the Opera House. Edgar put his tailors to work nonstop until Locke was satisfied. He had also asked to learn to waltz, recalling the dance moves that Celes learned from her experience in “Aria de Mezzo Carattere.” He wanted to be able to impress her just as her dance moves had captivated him. When he felt he was ready, he asked Setzer, who made frequent stops in Figaro Castle for upgrades and repairs to the Falcon, to accompany him to Jidoor. Setzer agreed.

“What do you mean, ‘sorry excuse?’ This overcoat looks exactly like the one you always wear.” Setzer looked Locke head to toe again.

“Well, that may be true. I’m just not used to seeing you like this, Locke. You look too much like Edgar.” Locke continued looking over the railing as he listened. “When I saw you in that getup, my jaw nearly hit the floor. Who would have thought that Locke Cole, treasure hunter extraordinaire, would be reduced to wearing formal attire to an opera, of all places.” Locke then had a scary thought. What if Celes didn’t like his new look either? What if she expected to see the old, dashing, and dressed-down Locke Cole when he arrived at the Opera House? Locke’s fear grew more and more as the Falcon approached its landing site near the outskirts of Jidoor.

“Shut up.” Locke said uneasily.

“All right, sorry.” Setzer then thought to himself. “I probably shouldn’t be so hard on him. It’s a big step for him…and for me as well.” He sighed as the Falcon finally came to a stop. “I thought I’d never forget Daryl, but then I heard about Maria. I guess he and I are brothers in arms, now.” He then went over to the hatch, where Locke already stood. “We have two choices ahead of us. We can either fork out the GP and stay in the Jidoor inn or we can stay here on the Falcon.”

“I thought that there weren’t any accommodations on the Falcon.”

“I had some built so that I wouldn’t have to stay in inns and save my GP for what really matters.” Locke scoffed, remembering Setzer’s favorite pastime. He wasn’t surprised by Setzer’s response at all.

“Right,” he said in accordance. As they walked through the cabin of the Falcon, Locke happened to glance into the quarters that Setzer had built. There was a king size bed in front of the windows with a canopy on top, a chest of drawers, a full-size mirror, a large, circular throw rug on the floor, and plenty of closet space, enough for an opera diva, that is. It was almost as if Setzer was already expecting to emerge victorious in this endeavor. Locke could see the confidence that Setzer carried with him. It almost appeared as if he was a bit arrogant when it came to matters such as this. However, Locke figured that that was all a part of being a gambler. You had to be overconfident at some times if you wanted to land the big pot. “We can stay here if it’s easier. The only problem is where am I going to sleep?”

“Well, there is the guest room, which is adjacent to the master bedroom. You can sleep there, if you want.”

“Mind if I take a look?”

“Not at all. Keep in mind, though. I’ve never had to use the guest quarters, so it might not be as homey is it should.”

“Hey, I got by sleeping on rocks and the hard ground for a long time,” said Locke. “As long as it’s not a repeat of that, I’ll be fine.” Locke glanced inside the quarters to see a twin bed without sheets, a face mirror and a small desk. He was, indeed, satisfied. Although the room was a bit dirty, as Setzer had warned, it would suit Locke just fine. “This should be fine,” said Locke. “It actually looks a lot like my room in Figaro Castle.”

“How many places do you have all over the world?” Setzer asked.

“Well, I’m originally from Kohlingen, but it’s been a while since I’ve slept there. I’ve got my room in Figaro Castle, a place in Narshe, and I used to room at the Returner Hideout when I needed to a long time ago.” Locke then flashed back to his life in Kohlingen. He remembered that he had never really had a home there, but rather had stayed with Rachel his entire time. He remembered how they used to talk to each other all night until they fell asleep, how they used to go camping on warm summer nights, and how they used to adventure together all over the western continent. One of those adventures ended up being his downfall, though. “No!” Locke thought to himself. “Stop doing this. That life is over! Look forward, Locke!” Regaining his composure, Locke turned to Setzer. “There’s one thing I think we should do. We need to go into town or to the Opera House itself so we can get some information about the show and some tickets to see a performance.”

“That’s a good idea,” agreed Setzer. “Why don’t we go to the Opera House now? There’s a chocobo stable in Jidoor, I believe.”

“But how are we going to get back to Jidoor? Chocobos return to their pen after the riders dismounts.”

“Well, you’re an adventurer, aren’t you? You surely still carry a weapon.”

Locke grinned. He then remembered the secret that he had been carrying with him all this time. “Well, I do have this old thing,” said Locke as he pulled out what appeared to be nothing more than a small handle. He then looked at it and started to concentrate his energy on the tip. All of a sudden, a flash of blue light let loose and took the form of a blade. Setzer jumped in amazement as he remembered what it was: the Atma Weapon.

“Wow!” said Setzer. “I never thought I’d see that thing again.” He looked at Locke with admiration. “You know, I really should learn how to use one of those things.” He then paused and reached into his jacket pocket. “But why should I need to when I have these little babies.” Setzer pulled out a piece of metal, about the size of a playing card. “Come on outside and I’ll show you something amazing.” As Locke unfocused the Atma Weapon, he followed Setzer outside. “Now, watch,” said Setzer. He threw the piece of metal sidearm, like he had thrown his cards and darts in battle when they fought Kefka. It spun sideways until it hit a rock and stuck to it. Suddenly, it exploded with the force of a land mine. “How do you like that?” Locke was speechless, his mouth wide open and eyes nearly coming out of his head in disbelief.

“Where did you get those things, Setzer?” he asked, still amazed by what he saw.

“They’re a little something that I had Edgar fix me up when I was in Figaro a while back. They’re loaded with an unstable chemical, and whenever they hit their target…BOOM! Think of them as portable bombs.”

“We sure could have used those back in the day.” The two men laughed as they mimed out what Setzer’s new weapon could have done to Kefka and company. “But, anyway, we need to get doing.”

“Right,” responded Setzer. As the two men walked into town, Locke could feel his confidence returning. The memories he had just shared with Setzer also made him remember his memories of Celes. He remembered that one night in Albrook when Celes had lost her faith in him and how he was able to regain it. He remembered how overjoyed she was when they found him in the Phoenix Cave. That happiness that he felt alone gave him the strength to go on and do what he needed to get done. The residents of Jidoor did not act as snobbish as they had before to Locke and Setzer when last they visited the burg, probably because of the clothes they were wearing. It seemed that appearance really did matter more than personality in this town. After asking around for information pertaining to the show, they discovered that Celes was, indeed, in the title role of “Rydia” with Maria in the supporting role of “Queen Ashura.”

They were hungry, so they went inside the pub for dinner and drinks. Setzer, always looking for a game of cards anywhere he went, met a man who claimed to be the best card player on the face of the continent and challenged Setzer to a game. Never backing down from a challenge, Setzer entered in combat with his fellow gambler, Locke looking on from the side, knowing that he was outdone. Setzer and the other gambler, whose name turned out to be Nichol, gambled long into the night on poker and blackjack, not letting any amount of money wagered shy them away. They also took drink after drink of ale. Locke had quit after about three, but as long as there was sport to be had for Setzer and Nichol, there was also plenty to drink. After about four hours of being a spectator, Locke decided to return to the airship without Setzer, who was still waging war with Nichol. As he boarded the Falcon and went to the guest quarters, he became excited at the thought of dropping in on Celes tomorrow. It was about a week until the opera opened for the public to see, and he began to wonder if he would even be able to get in to the Opera House tomorrow. His skills as a thief would be able to cover that department, if necessary. As he lay in bed, he once again thought of Celes. This time, it was when they first met each other in South Figaro when Locke had to rescue her from the Empire. It was right after she had turned traitor to the Empire. There, he gave her his oath that he would always protect her. He remained true to his word up until their parting. He always did protect her no matter what.

The next morning, Locke awoke to the sound of birds singing and groaning coming from the next room. Setzer had come in during the middle of the night and looked as hung over as could be.

“What happened to you?” Locke asked.

“I won. Beat the creep, but it cost me my lunch.” Setzer groaned again as he rolled over in the bed. “Go to the Opera House without me. I still need sleep.”

“All right,” said Locke. “Get well.” Locke went outside to a nearby spring and washed up in preparation to see Celes. He went into town, rented a chocobo, and started heading south towards the Opera House. He was sure to take the Atma Weapon with him because he would have to walk the way back. He remembered the territory well, and since Kefka had been defeated, there were not as many monsters roaming about. After about half an hour on the chocobo, he arrived at the Opera House. He was shaking in his boots. This was the closest that he had been to Celes in over a month. However, he calmed himself down and entered the building. The place had not changed much since he had last been there. There was still the same carpet, chandelier, and reception desk. No one was in the lobby except for him. He glanced over to his left and saw the display window featuring a poster for the show. He walked over to it and saw that the girl on the poster was Celes in costume. Locke examined in carefully. It appeared as if Celes had not changed her physical appearance. She still had shoulder-length blonde hair, beautiful blue eyes, and a petite figure. All of a sudden, someone exited the theatre portion of the opera house. It was a woman, a rather large woman who was, apparently, enraged.

“I will NOT work under these conditions with…with that…THING in the title role! I should have that role, not her!” Judging by how the person was talking, Locke could tell that it was Maria. The rumors, however, of Celes looking like Maria were untrue. Maria turned out to be the typical fat opera soprano. She had blonde hair, like Celes, but did not have as cute a face. As Locke watch her storm out of the lobby, he started to feel sorry for Setzer, who had no idea what he was about to get himself into. Locke tried to fight away a laugh as Maria happened to notice him. “And WHO are YOU??!!” she demanded.

“Uh…I’m…I’m looking for a Ms. Celes Chere,” he said nervously. “Do you know where she is?” With that, Maria clenched her teeth together and let out an unbearable groan. It was almost as if Locke had offended her by saying Celes’s name.

“Who? I’ve never heard of her,” said Maria repugnantly as she turned her nose up to Locke. “However, there is someone inside the theatre who may carry that name with her.” With that, a funny looking man rushed out of the theatre and towards Maria. Locke remembered that it was the Impresario. Since he last saw the Impresario, he had grown fatter and had lost more hair. Apparently, Kefka’s fall didn’t bring better fortunes to all people.

“Please, please, please, Ms. Maria. Come back into rehearsal,” begged the Impresario. His voice sounded squeaky and tired. He then dropped to his knees. “Please, Maria. You must come back, or I…er…the show will be ruined.” Maria closed her eyes, crossed her arms, and turned away from the Impresario.

“Sometimes I think you care more about that…that little…hussy than you do me!” said Maria.

“No! Of course not! Maria, you were the original star of this Opera House!” said the Impresario pleadingly as he grabbed one of Maria’s hands and started stroking it. Locke was about to explode from laughter. His face was turning beet red. Just then, the Impresario noticed that Locke was standing there, and jumped up from his knees. “I’m sorry, sir. The Opera House is closed to the public today. Please leave at once.”

“You don’t understand, Mr. Impresario. I’m a friend of Celes’s.” The doors to the theatre opened once again and another person came out into the lobby.

“Mr. Impresario? Is everything alright?” said a light and familiar voice. Locke froze where he was standing and slowly looked over to see who it was. There stood Celes, looking as beautiful as ever in her costume. She was wearing a green wig and a green cape with a blue dress, much like one a child would wear. Locke then remembered that Celes’s character, Rydia, was only supposed to be about the same age as Relm. He broke out in a cold sweat and started to tremble. There she was, right before him. His love. Celes then looked over to see who was standing with the Impresario and Maria. She squinted her eyes, as if she didn’t recognize the person. Locke’s eyes were wide open as he started taking quick breaths. He could feel his heart racing. He wanted to run over to her, swing her into his arms, and passionately kiss her. However, he knew that he couldn’t do that. Suddenly, she spoke. “Locke,” she said softly, “is that you?”

“Uh…Hi, Celes,” he said nervously. Celes’s face lit up in joy.

“It IS you!” she said gleefully as she ran to him and embraced him. At that moment in time, Locke felt something that he had not felt in such a long time that the memory of it’s name almost escaped him. It was a feeling he last felt when he was with Rachel. He felt truly happy with his life. Granted that defeating an evil force such as Kefka was satisfying enough, there is something about the compassionate touch of a woman that he felt to be more gratifying than any other feeling in the entire world. As he held his dear Celes in his arms, he let out a tear of utter happiness. He would have been perfectly content if time stopped right there. He wanted to keep this moment forever. Here was his chance to start anew in life.

Part Three: Trial

Locke trembled as Celes broke her embrace. To think, he was this close to the girl who could finally set him free of his past and help him live his life as he should. He looked at Celes and smiled. He was just as overjoyed to see her as she was to see him. Her embrace maybe even boosted his confidence a bit. He felt stronger around her and the sense of wanting to protect her was slowly coming back. However, he suddenly remembered what Terra had told him earlier.

“Stop trying to be a hero to every girl you meet and start being you.”

He was at a dilemma. Here he was, in the middle of the opera house lobby dressed in clothes that he had tailored just for this situation. That wasn’t him. If he had had his way, he’d be dressed in what he’d normally wear. If he really wanted to follow Terra’s statement, he felt that he had to abandon the current path he was taking. He then decided to go back to his old method of being the knight in shining armor that Celes once saw him as. He figured that he was being himself if he did that. He wouldn’t feel as awkward either. He would put up the charade, for now. When he was alone with Celes, though, he would go back to the Locke that she knew before, the Locke he thought she loved.

“Locke, what’s wrong?” asked Celes, breaking Locke’s moment in thought.

“What? Oh, nothing,” he said. “I was just…just glad to see you again, I guess.” Celes smiled after he finished. Locke looked at her again from head to toe and was a bit confused by her costume, especially her wig. “No offense, Celes,” he said, “but green is not your hair color.” Celes scoffed and grabbed at her wig.

“I know. It’s awful,” she said in compliance. “I wish that the legend didn’t go into that much detail.” She then removed the wig and stared at it. Locke noticed that her real hair was concealed under a wig cap. “Who’s ever heard of green hair anyway?”

“Terra’s hair is sort of green.”

“Hers is more of a blue-green and it looks cute,” she commented as she squeezed the wig in her hand. “This is just…blech!” She threw the wig on the floor in disgust. Locke chuckled. “Well, I’m glad to see that you take amusement in my suffering,” said Celes sarcastically.

“It’s not that, Celes,” he said nervously. “I’m just glad to see that some things never change. You’re still the down to earth girl I met a long time ago.” Celes blushed. She was obviously flattered by Locke’s comment. Maria then interrupted their conversation.

“SEE!!! She hates being Rydia. I certainly can be a better Rydia than this uncommitted little tramp!” Maria shouted. The Impresario started jumping up and down. He needed to maintain control of the situation and keep both of his stars in the show.

“Please, please, please, Maria!” pleaded the Impresario. He had to think of a solution quickly. “The roll of Queen Ashura…takes…more…experience!” he was stumbling over his words as he improvised an explanation. “We didn’t want to put Ms. Celes in that role because, well, she’s not…you! She lacks the talent to undertake such a difficult and prestigious role as you. And besides, you play a QUEEN! She’s a mere commoner, a little girl. You can make a much, much more elegant Queen Ashura than she could. So, please, Ms. Maria. Please come back to rehearsal.” Maria raised her nose again, but this time with a smile. She was appeased.

“I do make a good queen, don’t I?” she asked. The Impresario nodded up and down quickly as he wrapped his arm around Maria’s and led her back into the theatre.

“Oh, and Ms. Celes,” he said as he turned around, “Kindly tell y our friend to leave. Since he his your acquaintance, however, he is entitled to complementary tickets.” The Impresario looked again at Locke, whose face he suddenly remembered. “And tell him that he looked much less goofy in his…common attire.” He then entered the theatre with Maria. Locke had a puzzled look on his face. He put his hand on the back of his head and looked up at the ceiling.

“That’s the second person who’s told me that I look stupid,” he commented.

“Because you do,” remarked Celes. Locke snapped his head at her with a glare on his face. “Consider us even from the hair remark and laughter.” She then winked at him as he grunted in approval. At that moment, a man came out of the theatre who was clad in full body armor. He was about the same size as Sabin, only with finely combed brown hair. He looked too muscular to be an opera singer, so Locke figured that he had to be one of the stagehands who was working on the show. But, why was he dressed in knight’s armor, Locke thought.

“Celes, he said calmly, “we’re waiting for you.” He outstretched his arm as if to usher Celes back into rehearsal. He just happened to notice Locke standing there with Celes. He crossed his arms and glared down at Locke. “And who’s this?” he asked.

“Oh, let me introduce you two.” Celes took Locke by the arm and brought him over to the man in armor. He was even larger than Locke had initially perceived. “Renier,” she said, “this is my friend Locke Cole. He was with me for the entire journey.” Locke extended his hand; Renier did the same.

“Charmed,” said Locke as he shook Renier’s hand. Renier still looked at Locke as if he was a mere ant.

“The pleasure is all mine,” said Renier as he let go. “Now, Celes, we must get back to work.” He then started to drag Celes back into the theatre. Not resisting at all, Celes went along with him, her eyes rolled back into her head. Suddenly, she looked back at Locke and called out.

“Locke! Meet me in the Jidoor pub tonight around six! I’ll be there,” she said as the doors slammed shut in Locke’s face. As soon as he heard the sounds of the orchestra playing inside, he felt a feeling of elation come over him. He didn’t have to ask out Celes, she did it for him. A full smile broke out on Locke’s face as he turned around and began to exit the Opera House. Everything was going his way. It looked as though he would find the liberation from his past that he was looking for, and it would all start that night as six o’clock.

On his walk back to the Falcon, he started to think about how he should tell Celes how he felt about her. There were several options available to him, but he wanted to make his declaration unique. He didn’t have to work as hard with Rachel. Things just happened with her and he turned out to be more than happy when he was with her. Maybe he should just do the same here. He’d lived his life up to this point seeking the spur of the moment and just letting what happens happen. However, another part of him felt that he had to be prepared for anything that came his way, especially tonight. He didn’t want another repeat of what happened with Rachel, or what happened with Celes, for that matter. He still remembered that night when he almost lost her forever, but she forgave him. He betrayed her trust when she needed someone to believe in her. He felt his greatest fear at that moment; he failed her. He couldn’t let that happen again. He had to plan everything perfectly.

When he finally got back to the Falcon, Setzer was in the main cabin of the ship, sipping a cup of water.

“So, how did everything go with Celes?” asked Setzer. Locke nodded his head and smiled.

“Well,” he said. “Very well, in fact. She wants to see me tonight.”

“Wait, she asked you?”

“Yes she did,” replied Locke with a newfound confidence and pride. Setzer stumbled as he got up and made his way over to Locke. He offered Locke his hand, which Locke took.

“My friend, that is outstanding,” said Setzer as he shook Locke’s hand. “Did you happen to see Maria while you were there too?” Rather than burden his friend with the bad news, Locke figured that it would be better if Setzer remained in the dark on the subject of Maria.

“Not at all. She was stuck in rehearsal. I barely got Celes out.”

“Dang it,” said Setzer. “Oh, well. I guess it’s all for the better. I’d probably make a fool of myself acting like this.” Locke turned his head and went to the guest quarters. He needed to give himself a makeover if he was to win Celes’s heart tonight. He threw off the long overcoat that he had been wearing and grabbed a dirk from his pants pocket. He then cut off the sleeves of the coat and also shortened it at the waist. He also took off his shirt and tore the sleeves off. He would keep the pants and boots the way they were, he needed to be able to move his upper body. He was missing one thing, though, his headband. He couldn’t use part of his leather coat because it would stick to his forehead. He hadn’t had a very trusty one ever since the destruction of the world. It fell off his head as he fell towards the ground along with Setzer’s old airship. He began to wonder whatever happened to it. He decided to cut his losses and go without one. By the time he was done, there was still about three hours before he had to meet Celes. His next step was to go out and get some adventure back into his blood. He exited the guest quarters and entered the main cabin, where Setzer was busy practicing cutting cards.

“Setzer, I’m going out,” said Locke.

“What for? You’re not meeting Celes until later.”

“I know.” Setzer then noticed what Locke had done to himself. He looked more surprised than ever to see the old Locke back.

“What? How…? Who are you?” asked Setzer. Locke smiled, turned his back, and headed out.

Throughout the course of the afternoon, Locke was fighting monsters, jumping through the trees, and running wildly around the forests and plains. Of course, there was nothing that he was out to find, as a treasure hunter. The mere experience of getting back in touch with his adventuring roots was a thrill in itself. Soon enough, it was six o’clock, and Locke leaned against the side the Jidoor pub waiting for his lady. He was trembling at the mere thought of being with Celes again, of being this close to her and talking to her, of looking into her beautiful eyes again. He looked up and saw an entourage of people heading in his direction. It was a rabid group of operagoers who were soliciting Celes for her autograph and asking her to sing a few notes. Although she had not debuted in “Rydia” yet, she was being hounded by patrons who had seen her in “Aria de Mezzo Caratterre.” Locke then saw another gentleman walking with her, acting as sort of a bodyguard. It was Renier. Locke cringed as he thought to himself.

“Why is he here? He’s going to ruin my time with Celes.”

Renier forced his way through the crowd of people towards Locke. Celes followed him and went up to Locke as soon as she saw him.

“Hi, Locke!” she said. “I hope it’s all right if Renier is with us tonight. I absolutely need him to help me get past all these people.” Locke groaned to himself. He was not happy.

“No, not at all,” said Locke in compliance. “We wouldn’t want anything to happen to the star of the show, now, would we?” Celes smiled as she looked at Locke up and down. Something then occurred to her.

“Locke, you’ve gone back to the way you were. You’re not wearing those stupid clothes anymore.”

“Yeah, it feels more natural for me this way. If the people of Jidoor don’t like it, who cares? I’m a treasure hunter.”

“I believe the correct term is ‘thief’,” said Renier in a very matter of fact tone of voice. He then opened the door of the pub for Celes. Locke jolted his head towards Renier and looked at him with disdain.

“Now, Boys. Calm down,” said Celes. “Try to enjoy tonight, Renier. It’s the first night we’ve been able to go out like this for a long time.” Celes then entered the pub. Locke then tried to follow, but was pushed out of the way by Renier, who then entered.

“You’re pushing it, wise guy,” muttered Locke as he entered. They sat down at their table and ordered their meal. Locke sat across from Celes and was looking at her the whole time. He was overjoyed to have her in this setting. If it weren’t for Renier, he would have had the perfect opportunity to declare his feelings for her. A romantic, candlelight dinner, just the two of them, no distractions; he would have been set. All of a sudden, Renier blatantly cleared his throat, breaking Locke’s gaze at Celes.

“So, Celes has told me much about you,” he said. “You were a thief before Kefka’s reign?”

“That’s…treasure hunter,” Locke replied. He was starting to become annoyed with Renier’s obvious dislike of him. “There’s a huge difference. I never actually robbed people or killed them. I seek long-lost treasures known the world over only as legends.”

“Oh, how so?” asked Renier.

“Ever heard the legend of the Phoenix and the Phoenix Cave? I found them both.”

“Oh, yes. Celes told me about her journey through the Phoenix Cave in an attempt to find you.”

“It was amazing,” interrupted Celes. “That cave had some of the toughest monsters we ever fought on our journey. I couldn’t believe that Locke was able survive, let alone find that ancient relic.”

“Speaking of relics,” added Locke, “did you know that an ancient castle dating back to the War of the Magi lies beneath Figaro Castle? Celes and I got a first hand account of that adventure.”

“Yes, indeed,” Renier did not seem impressed by anything Locke had to say. Suddenly, Celes spoke.

“Well, Locke, you don’t know much about the opera, do you? Let me fill you in.”

“You can do so without my being here,” stated Renier. “I have served my purpose of keeping those rubbernecks away from you, Celes. I’ll wait for you outside. If you’ll excuse me…” he added as he got up to leave. Locke watched him leave the pub and turned to Celes as soon as he got out the door.

“How can you stand being around that arrogant jackass?” asked Locke harshly.

“You have to get used to him,” said Celes. “He’s a wonderful performer. A man’s man in the opera world.” Celes then sighed and gazed up at the ceiling. “Once you get to know him, he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever know. All of us adore him at the Opera House. He’s just as noble as the character he plays.”

“He’s not noble at all. He’s a stuck-up opera performer who turns his nose up to everyone he doesn’t like. Like me.”

“Oh, please, Locke. A lot of people are like that. He’s wonderful. He listened to my entire story of the journey and the battle with Kefka and even about my past.” Celes looked down at the floor as she smiled and softened her tone. “He didn’t pass judgment on me. He understood me.” Locke’s jaw nearly hit the floor when Celes said those words. He knew what she was trying to convey. She was making it seem like she was in love with Renier. Locke couldn’t believe it. He did not come all this way and feel all these long-lost feelings to lose the woman who could give him a new start on life. He became concerned for his prospects of a life with Celes. He had to ask her if she had feelings for him.

“Celes, don’t tell me you have feelings for that guy. Do you?” Celes looked up at Locke.

“You can tell?” Locke then let out a loud cry inside his head. He had been defeated yet again. He was too late. Celes went on to tell him about her character, the young girl-caller “Rydia,” Renier’s character, the dark knight turned paladin “Cecil,” and Maria’s character who teaches Rydia to harness her full powers, “Queen Ashura,” but Locke was too busy beating himself up inside to pay any attention. Celes and Locke also shared memories of their journey together, Locke putting on a façade the whole time. He had failed again. He couldn’t let this happen if he wanted to move on in life.

As the night ended, Locke and Renier accompanied Celes to her room in Jidoor. The crowds of people had gone, as it was rather late. Ironically, Renier lived in the same boarding house as Celes. Locke couldn’t help but look down at the ground the entire time they walked. He felt torn inside, as if someone had taken his one and only dream and shattered it in front of his eyes. Noticing this, Celes grabbed Locke’s hands and held them in her own. Locke looked into Celes’s eyes, but couldn’t help but be distracted by Renier, who still stood nearby, watching them.

“Renier, could you leave us alone, please?” she asked.

“So be it,” replied Renier, who turned his back to the two. “Good night, Celes,” he added as he walked off to his room. Celes turned back to Locke, who was looking at the ground again.

“Locke, what’s wrong?” she asked in a compassionate tone of voice. “Was it something that Renier said to irk you?”

“No, it’s…it’s not that, Celes. He didn’t say anything I haven’t heard before.”

“Well, then, what is it? You’re not yourself.” Locke sighed. He knew that he was cornered again and that the only way he wouldn’t spoil the evening was to lie to Celes and to himself.

“I’m just thinking about poor Setzer. He’s not going to like what’s become of Maria.” Celes laughed. Hearing her laugh sounded more beautiful than ever.

“Oh, I’m sure he’ll be able to get over it,” she said. “Oh! Locke, stay right there,” said Celes as she entered her room and shut the door behind her. Locke hit himself softly on his head with his fist.

“Stupid! Now look what you made yourself do,” he thought. Celes returned with two tickets to the Opera’s House’s opening performance.

“Here you are. One for you and one for Setzer.”

“Thanks, Celes,” said Locke uneasily. He wanted to tell her everything that he had felt for her up to that point, but he didn’t want to spoil what they had shared that night. It was good to see her again, but reality had taken its toll on Locke again. “I’ll see you at the performance, then.”

“Right,” responded Celes. “I hope you enjoy the show.”

“Good night, Celes,” said Locke as he smiled and looked at her one last time. He turned around to go, but Celes ran to him and grabbed his arm, stopping him. Locke turned around.

“Locke,” she said, “it was nice seeing you again.” She moved her lips towards his cheek and kissed him tenderly. “Good night.” Celes then went back into her room and shut the door. That did it. Locke had to make Celes his and his alone. He didn’t care about how he did it either. As he walked back to the Falcon, he remembered the night that he first met Celes. She was chained up in an underground cell in South Figaro, lost in despair. He freed her and gave her a chance to undo her wrongs and fight evil in its truest form. He remembered all the other times that he and Celes spent together on that journey. He couldn’t let all his feelings go unanswered. He remembered feeling this way many years ago while he was with Rachel. He didn’t realize it at first, but he knew it was all the same. He was in love with Celes. He loved her with every bit of his being and he was confident that part of Celes was still in love with him too. Why else would she have given him that kiss? He came up with a plan to finally prove his love for her. After the finale of the opera, he would be the first person to greet Celes as she came offstage and tell her that she did a great job. At that moment of high emotion, he figured that he could kiss Celes in front of everybody and that she wouldn’t care. In fact, she would welcome it. Getting back stage would be the problem, though. He figured that he would be able to sneak into her dressing room, as he did before, and greet her in the stage wing there. He had it all figured out as he finally reached the Falcon. He was determined to, once again, win the girl and be the hero.

The days passed and the night of the opera arrived. Guests in formal attire packed the Opera House awaiting the start of the career of what was supposed to be the new operatic sensation, Celes Chere. All except Locke, that is. He wore what remained of his formal attire after he had washed it thoroughly. The other operagoers all stared at Locke in disbelief. To think, someone of such distastefulness was in their midst. He did not belong, but Locke didn’t care. He and Setzer took their seats with anticipation as the lights dimmed and the music started. As the opera began, a burning village was shown, with Celes in the middle. Renier came on, dressed once again as the knight, and saw that Celes was grieving the loss of her mother. Renier then admitted that he was the one who started the blaze in the village, as ordered by his lord, the King of Baron. Celes then used her powers as a caller to summon the monster Titan, who quickly disposed of the village and sent Renier and Celes off to another part of the world. At this point in the opera, Setzer leaned over to Locke.

“Celes looks and sounds great. You’re one lucky guy,” Locke nodded in agreement and smiled. He didn’t bother to tell Setzer what had happened on that night, at risk of losing status in Setzer’s eyes. Setzer was right; he was a lucky guy to have it in so close with this opera diva. He grew more and more anxious to see Celes with each passing moment of the show. He could hardly contain himself and had been fidgeting in his seat all night long. He was often told by many of the patrons around him to sit still, as if he was a small child. The first act was nearing ending when Locke could not sit there and watch Celes any longer. He was going to sneak backstage and be the first to greet Celes as she came off.

“Excuse me for a minute, Setzer. I’m going to check in on Celes,” said Locke.

“Right,” agreed Setzer, “but don’t be too long back there. And if you see Maria, give her my best.”

“I will.” Locke headed out through the aisle where he had been sitting, climbing over patron after patron. He exited into the lobby and headed towards the backstage area. He went through Celes’s dressing room and into the offstage left wing. Renier was standing there in costume awaiting the end of the act. Right now, Rydia was lost in an underworld cave. She would eventually find Queen Ashura, queen of all monsters, at the end. Renier noticed that Locke was standing behind him.

“Now what in blazes are you doing here dressed like that?” asked Renier disapprovingly.

“What does it look like? I’m here to watch Celes.” Renier turned his back to Locke and scoffed.

“I honestly don’t know why Celes keeps a little rat like you around as a friend.”

“What did you say?” Locke started to get riled up. Renier was definitely starting to get on his nerves.

“You heard me right,” responded Renier. “When Celes told me about herself, she told me about this ‘dashing’ and ‘noble’ young man named Locke Cole whom she loved for a long time. However, she also told me that this ‘Locke Cole’ was nothing more than a petty thief who could not leave well enough alone, get over his grief, and accept the fact that people change. Even dead people change.” Locke could feel the anger build inside of him. If Renier didn’t stop, there were going to be problems between the two of them. Renier continued. “Maybe you realize now that Celes is destined for greatness. She’s changed. She’s wanted to forget you ever since she began here; she’s wanted to forget everything in her past. So, I suggest that you make yourself scarce from now on, you ignorant, uncultured, brutish, little worm.” Locke looked down at the ground and clenched his fists together. Renier was getting closer and closer to crossing the line. “By the way, how is Rachel doing? Oh, that’s right. She lost interest in you even though you tried to save her life. How unfortunate.” That did it. He would let anything fly, but no one ever dishonored Rachel’s memory. Locke could take no more. He grabbed Renier by the shoulder, spun him around and laid a hard right hook on his chin. Renier stumbled backward, eventually lost his balance, and fell to the ground.

“Don’t you dare disrespect Rachel like that,”

“You still don’t get it, do you?” As Renier slowly picked himself up, he spoke again. “You’re stupider than I thought. Well, let me make it clear to you. Celes is MINE!” Locke punched him again in the same place, only harder. He put everything behind that punch. He used his feelings for Celes as his motivation. He had had enough out of Renier. Renier stumbled backward on to the stage in the middle of the active scene. Locke followed up by tackling Renier to the floor. The patrons stood up and gasped in utter disbelief as they watched the melee take place on stage. Needless to say, the actors on stage were surprised as well, especially Celes. The two men were too busy fighting to realize what they were actually doing. Renier got a leg up under Locke and threw him off with a mighty push. Renier then charged towards Locke and tackled him, like Locke had just done to him. The two men went flying into a part of the scenery, completely demolishing it. Renier laid in a few good punches of his own until Locke was able to break free of his grip and got out of the scenery. Renier lunged toward Locke again, but this time, Locke was able to dodge him. As Renier tried to spin back around, Locke kicked him in the back, sending him flying into the orchestra pit, landing on a few of the musicians.

“How’s that for a little worm?” Locke asked.

“Locke, what are you doing??!” screamed Celes behind him. Locke froze where he stood and finally realize where he was. There were whispers in the audience about how they were appalled by what just happened, yet they were not surprised to see whom it was coming from. Locke could see Setzer as well, who was hiding his face and shaking his head in disbelief. He knew he was in trouble, only this time, there was no octopus for him to fight as an excuse. He saw Celes run to Renier, who was having trouble getting back on his feet. After taking a few moments to check up on him, she marched back to Locke, who still stood in the middle of the stage. “Locke, what have you done? The Impresario is going to pull his hair out when he sees this!” she shouted. She spared no strength in her voice in yelling at Locke. The show was obviously over for the night.

“Celes, let me explain. You see…” he was cut off by Celes, who was not in the mood to hear anything he had to say.

“No! I don’t want to hear it, Locke. You’ve ruined this performance and possibly my career.” Locke was in desperation he had to make Celes understand why he did what he did.

“Celes…You…You don’t understand. He was…well…he…he…” Locke had no idea what to say. He was trapped and could not put any of his thoughts or feelings into anything coherent.

“Locke, you hurt him! And you completely humiliated me. Get out! I never want to see you again!” she yelled as she turned her back and walked away. Locke could feel his heart shatter into small pieces at that moment. He had no idea what he was going to do next. He merely sulked off the stage through the orchestra pit and left. Setzer, trying not to make himself look too conspicuous, followed.

Part Four: Absolution

A week had passed since the incident at the Opera House, and Locke found himself back in Mobliz with Terra and the Orphans. It was supposed to be a festive occasion in the small orphan colony that day. It was Mina’s seventh birthday and everybody in the village was celebrating. All except Mina, that is. She was nowhere to be found in the village. Noticing this, Terra had Locke, Duane, and Katarin go out and search for her while she stayed behind and watched over the children. The party was beginning with out the birthday girl, and that should never happen.

Locke had not been able to go about as he normally would during that time. He tried to pass the time and forget about Celes by playing with the children, spending time with them, telling them stories, and even volunteering to be on night duty. However, Celes said the words that no man ever wants to hear from the one he loves. He felt wounded and vulnerable. He had lost his confidence in himself again. He failed not only himself but Celes as well. As he walked slowly through the surrounding forests of Mobliz, he recalled the day of the accident with Rachel and how he could do nothing but kick himself, taking all the blame for what happened. It almost made him want to break down in tears, knowing that he had allowed himself to take a stupid risk and lose the person that he held most dear. Not only did he destroy any chance he ever had of being with Celes, he ruined their friendship as well. He was at fault for what happened, and as a result, he lost her forever.

He told Terra everything that had happened on that day. Needless to say, Setzer didn’t need the same luxury. She gave Locke as much pity as she could, but she couldn’t help but say that she told him so. Locke tried too hard to be a hero to Celes instead of just letting it happen. He over thought and over analyzed everything and it cost him the girl of his dreams. Whether he liked it or not, Terra was right from the start. Locke tried to be something that he was not and paid the consequences for it.

He was about fifteen minutes away from the village when he happened to hear a faint whimpering sound. He followed the sound to a small opening in the trees surrounded by rocks. There, he found Mina sobbing with her face in her hands. Locke immediately went over to comfort her and take her back to the village.

“Mina, what are you doing here? Everyone’s worried sick about you!” said Locke. Mina looked up at Locke, her face covered in tears. He went over beside her and took a knee. He had to try to cheer her up somehow. It wasn’t right for a little girl to cry on her birthday. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you out here in the middle of the forest?”

“Oh, Uncle Locke,” she sobbed. “I know today is my birthday.” She stopped crying, but started sniffling in between some of her words. “But…I…I’m not happy.” Locke put his hand on her shoulder. He felt bad for her. He should have been the one crying in the middle of the woods, not her. After all, she didn’t just lose the girl of her dreams to her own stupidity.

“Come on, Mina. How can you not be happy? All your friends are back in the village and they’re waiting for you. Mama, Duane, and Katarin are there too. They’re all waiting to celebrate with you.” The little girl sniffled again. Her crying, for the time being, had stopped.

“I know they’re all there,” she whimpered, “and I know that they all love me very much. It’s just that…my real Mama and Papa aren’t there.” Locke realized what was going on. Mina missed her parents. They had died along with the other adults over a year ago when Kefka leveled the town. She was only five at the time, a very tender age to witness one’s own parents die right in front of you. She continued. “That light took them. It took everyone else’s mamas and papas too. My birthdays were always special. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters and Mama and Papa always told me that I was a gift from the heavens. And now, they’re not here.” She grabbed ahold of Locke’s jacket and started to cry into it. Locke responded by hugging her gently. “Why wasn’t anyone there to stop the light?” asked the little girl as she continued to cry. Locke sighed. He didn’t know what he could do to cheer her up except to continue talking. He let go of Mina and sat her down on a nearby stone. Unknown to them both, a nearby figure stood and listened in the shadows.

“Dry your tears, Mina. I’m going to tell you a story.” Mina wiped her eyes with the sleeve of the shirt she was wearing as Locke began to speak. “The man who used the light on your village was named Kefka. He was a very evil man. He used the light on the entire world that day, so a lot of other children lost their mamas and papas too, not just you and your friends.” Mina looked up at Locke with her large, sad eyes. “Remember the day that some of your Mama’s friends came to the village and she went with them? Well, their names were Celes, Sabin, Edgar, and Setzer. They’re my friends too. After a while, they found me too and we all went to fight Kefka.”

“Then what happened?” asked Mina. Locke then stood up as he reenacted the journey.

“As we climbed Kefka’s tower, we knew that we were getting closer and closer to defeating him. We felt that he had to be defeated if the world was going to return to normal. We couldn’t allow him to hurt any more innocent people.” He then pulled out the Atma Weapon. “You see this little knob? Well, it transforms into a powerful sword when I need it to.” Mina looked at the Atma Weapon in awe as Locke continued. “I used this sword to deal Kefka his final blow. I made sure that he paid the price for ruining all those lives in our world.”

“You killed the bad man?” asked Mina. “Was he scary?”

“He was so scary that me and my friends wanted to run away and hide. But we didn’t. We fought him and we won.”

“So that’s the story of the bad man who killed my Mama and Papa?”

“Yes it is. Your Uncle Locke was the one who did it too.” With that, Mina ran up and hugged Locke. She was crying again, but this time, she wept tears of joy.

“Oh, thank you, Uncle Locke!” she cried. “I’ve always wanted to know what happened to that bad man! Mama just told us that we didn’t have to fear anything anymore. I always asked her what really happened to him, but she wouldn’t tell me.” Locke could feel the joy emanating from Mina’s body. It did her little heart good to know the truth behind her parents. Locke felt good as well, all of a sudden, for doing this. He could feel his heroic spirit slowly returning, but it would not help a whole lot. He had merely cheered up a crying little girl, not saved the world or gotten forgiveness from Celes. He let go of Mina and she did the same. He continued.

“But, Mina, you’re not the only one who’s lost people that you’ve loved.”

“You lost someone too?”

“Yes, two actually.” Locke looked up at the sky, as if he was trying to evoke Rachel’s spirit. “One died. And the other, well, she’ll just never talk to me again.”

“Why’s that?” asked Mina. “Is she a mean person?”

“No, she’s not mean at all. I…I just did something stupid.” Locke sighed. He couldn’t believe that he was about to open up to a seven year-old girl. He had started, though, and there was no going back. “You see, Mina, I was in love with her. She’s the most beautiful, talented, intelligent, and forgiving woman I’ve ever known. Her name is Celes and she’s an opera singer. She spent some time with me and your Mama when we were fighting Kefka. Your Mama also told me that Celes was in love with me, but I was still too preoccupied with something else to realize it.” He was, of course, referring to Rachel and how he clung on to his last hope that he would be able to revive her and be with her again. “I needed someone to help me forget about my past and decided that she would be the best suited for it. She did exactly that herself, you see. She forgot her past and is continuing on with her life. I though that if she still loved me that she’d help me do the same. I needed her help and I screwed myself up.”

“But you were in love with her,” added Mina. “Why’s she mad at you?” Locke was taken by the girl’s inquisitiveness. She acted much older than her age.

“Because I tried to be something that I wasn’t. You see, Mina, I like to think of myself as a hero to a lot of people. She was one of them. I saved her once and I guess I took it too far. I was wrong to do so, and now, I’m suffering for it.” He sighed and looked down at the floor, he had just come to realize his greatest fear about Celes. “I…I failed her.” He clenched his fists together and tried to squeeze a tear out of his eye. Mina gave him another hug. It took Locke by surprise.

“Uncle Locke, you can be my hero too,” she said reassuringly. Locke smiled. It was a nice gesture on her part, but it still wouldn’t help his recovery process. He knew that one and only one thing could do that. Just then, the shadowy figure emerged from behind a large rock. Mina saw it and screamed. Locke whipped around to see what had caused this ear-shattering cry. He almost went into shock when he saw who it was.

“Ce…Celes…” he muttered in utter disbelief. Mina looked out from behind Locke and saw the girl that Locke had just described to her. She looked kind and gentle. She was dressed in a green shirt with long leather pants that clung tightly to her legs. She was also wearing a white cape and had long blonde hair. Locke was still stunned. Many conflicting thoughts rushed into his head. Why was she here? How long was she standing there? Had she forgiven him?

“Hello, Locke,” she said. She then looked down at Mina and saw that the little girl seemed frightened by her. “Hi, there,” she said. “What’s your name?”

“M…Mina,” replied the small girl. She looked up at Locke and asked, “Uncle Locke, who’s this lady?”

“Mina, this…is Celes,” responded Locke. Mina looked at Celes with disdain.

“You’re mean! You hurt Uncle Locke’s feelings!” she stated. Celes took a step back, surprised by what she just heard.

“Mina! That’s enough!” said Locke. “That wasn’t very nice. I think you should apologize.”

“No, Locke. It’s all right. I deserved it,” said Celes. She then sat down on her legs and spoke to Mina. “Mina, your Uncle Locke and I need to talk about something. Do you mind giving us a few minutes?” Mina resisted and curled her lip up at Celes. Locke looked down at the girl.

“You do as she says, Mina. Go head back to the village. We’ll be along soon.” Mina let go of Locke again.

“OK,” she said, “but hurry up or you’ll miss my party.” She then scampered off in the direction of Mobliz, Locke and Celes watching her go. Suddenly, Celes turned back to Locke.

“Locke, I came here today to hear your side of the story. Renier told me what you both did backstage, but his ego was obviously in the way,” Celes explained as she crossed her arms. “I want you to tell me what happened between you and Renier.”

“Celes, how did you know I’d be here?”

“I got ahold of Setzer and he told me where you were. Now, start talking.” Locke couldn’t believe that Celes was actually here with him in the woods. This was his one and only chance to either attain her forgiveness and continue to charade his love for her or fully reveal everything to her. He wanted to tread lightly, but felt that he also had to take advantage of Renier not being there. Here was the chance he wanted a week ago, but he was too nervous to go through with it. Maybe if he asked another question, he’d be able to formulate Celes’s current mood towards him.

“What about the show?”

“Stop stalling, Locke.” Locke was caught once again. He needed to start talking about that night at the Opera House and he needed to do it now.

“First, let me say this Celes,” said Locke. Celes stood there, her impatience with him growing by the minute. “I think that you’re one of the most wonderfully amazing women whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. We’ve been through a lot together in the past year, and I’d like to think that the bond we share is unbreakable. You have to at least give me that, Celes.” She did not look impressed. Locke trembled as he continued. “Celes, what happened between myself and Renier was entirely my fault. I should never have done something that entirely stupid.” He looked down at the ground, believing that he did not deserve to even look at Celes after what he did. “I wanted to be the first person to greet you offstage after the opera ended. But, I couldn’t wait that long. You were doing…just…such a wonderful job up there that I couldn’t wait for the end of the show. I had to see you at the intermission. You looked so beautiful…” Unknown to Locke, Celes’s hand went up to her mouth as she gasped in disbelief as soon as Locke admitted this to her. “So, I snuck backstage and ran into Renier. We had a few words and he ended up saying something he shouldn’t have said. So, I ended up doing something I shouldn’t have done.” He sighed. “He’s right about me, you know. I’m nothing but a brutish little worm. Who’d have thought that I’d lose you as a result. I didn’t want that to happen.” Celes walked over to him and touched his right forearm. Locke slowly raised his head and their eyes met.

“Locke, is there something else you want to tell me?”

“Celes, I need you. I need you in more ways than one. You were there with me when I last left Rachel’s house right? You knew that I was determined to get over her and continue on with my life. You used to have feelings for me, but I was still too obsessed with being Rachel’s hero that I was too blind to realize it. I need you to help me forget her, just like you forgot about being an imperial general. You moved on, and I need to do the same.” Celes released her grip on Locke’s arm. She turned her back to him and walked away a bit. She brought her hands up underneath her chin. Locke felt alarmed. Did he say something to offend her? “Celes, what’s wrong?”

“Locke, that’s not…entirely true,” she admitted. “You see, I tried to do the same as you, forget everything. I thought that if I became an opera star that I would. On top of that, I felt that it would also help if I got involved with Renier.” She turned around again, Locke never taking his eyes off her. “I wanted to forget…everything. But I couldn’t. There was still something that I held on to.”

“Just like me.”

“Yes, exactly like you.” Here was his chance. Locke had an open opportunity to finally reveal everything to Celes. His suffering ended now. He went over to Celes, placing his hand on her shoulder. Celes looked up into his eyes.

“Celes, you’d think that I was still holding on to Rachel. Well, here’s the second reason why I need you.” He took a deep breath. This was the greatest leap of faith that he had ever taken. “Celes, I need you because I’ve finally realized something. I’m not holding on to Rachel. I’m holding on to you.” Locke spoke straight from his heart. Nothing but his deepest, purest feelings for Celes drove him to say what he was saying. “Celes, I’ve done nothing but think about you ever since we parted ways. I’ve longed for the moment where I could finally hold you in my arms and call you my own. I’ve had this void inside of me ever since Rachel died that needs to be filled. I’m all alone in this world. All of my family’s gone and I haven’t had the motivation to find any treasures since the day Rachel died. Rachel and her love kept me going; they kept me alive for the longest time. She was my lone reason for living. Whenever I left Kohlingen, I returned only because of her love. It was the greatest treasure that I could have ever found.” Locke started to break down as he slowly lowered his head, as if he was ashamed of admitting these things to Celes. “Now, I need to find an even greater treasure. Celes, I don’t want you to be Rachel, I have no right to ask you to do that.” He let out a heavy sigh and looked up. “I guess that’s why I held on to you, Celes. You’re you, and from now on, I want to live for you. Just like I lived for her.” As Locke looked into Celes’s eyes, he could see the tears slowly forming. She was obviously deeply touched by his outpour. However, he still hadn’t said those three magical words that would change their relationship forever. He hadn’t said them in such a long time that he had almost forgotten the power they held within. He clasped Celes’s hands in his own and took another deep breath. “Celes, I love you.” As soon as he finished, a wind blew past the two of them. It pushed a small tear out of Celes’s eye.

“Locke…” she said.

“Yes, Celes?” Locke’s heart was racing. His moment of destiny had arrived. Here was the moment that would decide how he would live the rest of his life. Celes broke their clasp, reached down into a satchel that she was carrying, and pulled out a worn piece of blue cloth. It was not a very thick fabric and it looked like it had a pattern on it—different shades of blue. It took Locke a while, but he eventually recognized it. It was his long lost headband! Celes had it this entire time.

“I kept it to remember you, Locke.” She then unfolded it completely, wrapped it around his head, and tied it in back. She then slid her hands down the sides of his head and around his shoulders, embracing him. Locke froze, his insides trembling out of anticipation. “I love you too.” With that, they brought their lips closer together and they shared their first kiss. On that day near the village of Mobliz, two rebirths took place. Locke Cole and Celes Chere had made the ultimate expression of love between two people. Instantly, any memory of their pasts disappeared from their beings. They had done it.

One Year Later

It was a merry day at Figaro Castle, the throne room decorated for a wedding fit for a king. A priest stood at the front of the throne room with Locke Cole and his best man, the gambler Setzer Gabbiani. Among those present in the congregation were Edgar Figaro, the King of Figaro, his brother Sabin, Cyan Garamonde, retainer to the Kingdom of Doma, a mysterious stranger named Clyde that Strago Magus and Relm Arrowny had brought along, a young child named Gau, a group of moogles lead by their king, Mog, the opera diva Maria, who had since married Setzer, and the Impresario, who was already crying his eyes out. A light air filled the room as the flower girl, a little orphan girl named Mina, lead the procession of bridesmaids down the long aisle. Terra Branford in a pink silk dress came next. As soon as that procession ended, the congregation rose in anticipation. Here comes the bride. Celes Chere, draped in a wedding gown of pure white, slowly lock stepped down the long aisle until she was finally aside her man. As the tradition at weddings is, Celes, wore something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. As her blue piece, she tied Locke’s headband around her own head, truly signifying that the two lived for each other. A few moments later, the words were spoken and the deed was done. Afterwards, the party adjourned to the main hall for the reception. There, the newlywed bride and groom shared their first dance. Locke had finally gotten his deepest, most sincere wish. He and Celes danced to her trademark piece, “Aria de Mezzo Caraterre.” As Locke looked up for a moment, he suddenly saw an apparition appear close to the ceiling. It looked amazingly like Rachel. The spirit looked like it was smiling and crying at the same time. Locke then heard a whisper in his ear. “Today, you are truly free…” He continued to look up at the specter as it slowly faded away. As their dance ended, Celes leaned close to Locke’s ear and let out another whisper. “My hero.”

------------The End------------

Thanks to the following:

SquareSoft, LTD, for making the greatest RPG ever made, Final Fantasy III

All those who may read this fanfic

Although you may not know it, that one special someone out there, for there truly is someone for every guy or girl with a dream in their heart.


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