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Before the Dice Fall

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Watching the sky for the first sign of Kefka’s tower on the horizon wouldn’t make the journey any quicker, Celes knew. But she couldn’t seem to tear herself away.

She itched with the need to do something useful. But there was nothing really left to do. She’d checked over her equipment multiple times—everything was in perfect working order, and her sword’s blade was as keen as could be.

The sky was clear, and there was little wind. It was good flying weather. A good omen, perhaps, but Celes tried not to be superstitious.

She and the others would win or lose the day based on the strength of their arms, the sharpness of their minds, the will behind their spells…

...and yet, as much as she loathed it, it felt very much like luck would have to play a part in their victory--if they were to be victorious.

It was not an overstatement to call Kefka a god, at this point—or, at the very least, to say that he wielded godlike power, but that seemed a rather fine distinction at this point. He’d gathered up the power of the Warring Triad, and had reshaped the very face of the world.

What hope did a handful of people have against that?

But she had to believe there was some hope, however small. Without hope, there was no reason to do anything but wait for Kefka to grow bored enough to destroy the world.

Celes remembered the cultists, marching endlessly around their tower, eyes dull, utterly unresponsive to any attempts at conversation; it was said they prayed to Kefka, but did they truly pray for salvation? Or did they, perhaps, pray for the end they knew must be coming to finally arrive and end the agony of uncertainty?

Strago could possibly answer. But he didn’t seem inclined to speak of it after Relm had called him back to himself. Celes didn’t think it would be right to press him.

And then there was the fact that destroying the statues of the Warring Triad would likely lead to the end of magic itself--all of it, everywhere in the world.

Celes wasn't sure what effects, precisely, that would have on her, Strago, Relm, and--especially--Terra.

But there was nothing else they could do. If Kefka wasn't stopped, people would continue to die.

All they could do was hope, it seemed.

Forcibly, Celes pulled herself away from the balcony, striding across the timbers of the airship. The wind whipped through her hair as she made a circuit of the deck, as if inspecting it to make sure everything would hold together for long enough to reach Kefka’s tower.

Then, against her better judgement, she walked over to the wheel, where Setzer stood, looking surprisingly calm for a man flying into what might be his death, and asked, “How much longer, do you think?”

“Not terribly long,” said Setzer. “Less than an hour. If you have anything you want to get done before then, best to do it now.”

Celes sighed. “There’s nothing left for me to do but wait.” Nothing left for anyone to do, really. Setzer, she supposed, still had his task of flying them in… but they were on the last stretch of their journey, a straight shot to the tower, and unless Kefka realized they were coming and decided to throw some complications at them—which was a distressing possibility—it ought to be relatively smooth sailing.

“Ah,” said Setzer. “The dice are in the air, now; we’re just waiting to see where they fall.”

“I suppose,” said Celes, looking back out over the horizon. No sign of the tower yet.

“But perhaps that metaphor isn’t quite to your tastes,” said Setzer, leaning forward a bit on the wheel, “If I’d known you a bit better back when you proposed your little coin flip, I’d have known better than to take you up on it. Now I know you’re not really the gambling type.”

“I suppose we're all gambling with the fate of the world, now,” said Celes, looking out over the clouds.

Setzer snorted. “We’re fighting for our lives,” he replied. “And doing what we can to stack the odds in our favor. No, this hardly counts. You’re not a gambler at heart, Celes, if I'm any judge. You want a sure bet, or as close to it as you can get. I don’t think you find the possibility of losing to be especially thrilling.”

“I don’t see how anyone would,” said Celes, glancing back at Setzer.

Setzer met her eyes, smiling. “A lot of it depends on the stakes, you see. Gamble a few coins, and if you win, perhaps you buy yourself and a lovely lady friend a nice dinner. Lose… and you stay at home and scrounge through the pantry, all the while thinking of how you’re going to win your money back.”

“And if you simply keep your money in the first place, you can be sure you’ll have enough to buy groceries,” said Celes.

“Ah,” said Setzer. “but then you’d be left wondering what might have been—what you might have won or lost. And even if you lose—even if you lose all you own, with nothing left but the clothes on your back, the lint in your pockets, and a pair of unlucky dice… then you might well just be in the beginning of a thrilling rags-to-riches saga. Anything can change in a moment if you leave yourself open to chance; anything at all. And who knows? A loss may prove to be the prelude to a future victory.”

Celes remembered the state Setzer had been in Kohlingen--despairing at not only the state of the world, but at the loss of his airship and the freedom of flight.

He had his wings back now, in a sense. But they weren't only his wings. Celes knew whose airship this had been; she knew at least some of what this airship's original owner--Darill--had meant to Setzer.

As he'd said--it depended on the stakes.

But even so... Setzer had lost a great deal, and still kept going. All of them had lost something, or someone, and here they all were, ready to risk their lives for the sake of the world.

They'd all chosen to be here.

And Setzer was trying to lift her spirits--and his own, too, most likely.

Still...

“I prefer to minimize my losses, when I can,” said Celes, looking back at the clouds. “Especially when it’s the lives of others I’m playing with.”

Terra will survive. Even if all the magic in the world disappears--Terra is more than her magic. She's human and Esper both. She'll survive. She has to.

Somehow, Celes failed to find her own reasoning as reassuring as she'd hoped.

“Ah,” said Setzer. “Yes. You would have some experience with that--you were a general, weren’t you? And granted that rank at a rather young age.”

“I was started on the Magitek infusions when I was a small child,” said Celes. “From the moment I was chosen for the experiment, I was destined to become a weapon for the Empire. They started teaching me tactics when other children were still learning to tie their shoes.” The lessons had, of course, been adapted for children; despite everything, Celes still had fond memories of the snowball fights that had taken place between the children of the Magitek Project when she'd been much, much younger.

“I suppose there are probabilities in war, as in everything else,” said Setzer. “Still. It’s one thing to gamble with one’s own life, but anyone who’d enjoy gambling away the lives of others would hardly make for pleasant company at the table.” He shrugged. “I suppose your attitude suits a soldier, as mine suits a high-flying gambler. We’re all born into whatever circumstances Lady Luck’s whim decides, and play the hand she dealt us as best as we can, and win or lose according to skill and chance. But… well, one does need to have a world to win or lose in.”

“One does,” Celes agreed. She sighed. “I just wish this were over.”

Once, what felt like a long time ago, she would never have dared to show even that level of weakness. Back in the Empire, she hadn’t been able to afford any show of vulnerability—not when her Magitek-gifted powers and rapid rise in rank had made her a target for jealousy, and when it seemed like many of those who were supposed to answer to her seemed to be waiting for her to make a mistake--who does she think she is, she’s a teenage girl, thinks she can give us orders just because the Emperor handed her a rank—a rank she was surely only given because she took to the Magitek treatments so well…

She’d always had to prove herself. She’d told herself she didn’t mind. All she cared about was honing herself into a weapon, sharp and flawless, a sword to cut down the Emperor’s foes for the glory of the Empire.

And then she’d betrayed her Emperor, and found…

...and found companions. People she could trust.

“Likewise,” said Setzer. He squinted, peering into the distance; Kefka’s tower was just visible through the clouds.

“Ah. Here we are,” he said. “Life or death—not just for us, but for everyone. The stakes couldn’t be higher.” He straightened up, and gave a grin that was sheer bravado.

“Well,” said Setzer. “I suppose it’s time to ante up.”

Celes snorted quietly, placing her hand on the hilt of her sword. “I suppose so.”

With that, she went down to the lower decks to gather the others.