We're going to get quite a few new characters here in the next few issues, and I know it's going to get a bit confusing.
The good news is that the game at least makes it easy to keep it all straight by keeping us to only one story branch at a time. Square tried something like this in Legend of Mana, too, but they kind of left out the part where it doesn't get all jumbled together. If you're interested in seeing how all that worked out for me, here's a link to a forum thread where I've got links to all the posts in that run, courtesy the County Line Gaming forum.
First thing we've gotta do, though, is get to the Returner base in the mountains. Fortunately, it's a short trip, and better yet, there's a thing or two that happens here, as well. The most important is that our four characters will get split up by the end of this, but we'll get there soon enough. There's also an opportunity to learn a little bit about Edgar, Sabin, and Locke before we continue on the quest at large.
Locke tells us that he was ambivalent and maybe even supportive of the Empire until it jailed someone important to him, which made him realize that the whole Empire was just evil. This will play out later in the game, though saying Locke's friend has been imprisoned may not be the most precise term for it, if I recall how this story goes. We'll find out what really happened later on in the game, but for now, I'll just call it a forcible separation.
Meanwhile, Sabin says that Edgar's a good man in spite of appearances and rumors, and Edgar tells Terra that they really need her to join the Returners, but they can't force her into it or they'll be as bad as the Empire.
But before those conversations happen, we're introduced to the leader of the Returners, a temporary party member named Banon. He's a seemingly frail fellow who has a surprisingly useful battle command called “Health” that restores the health of all party members, though it does nothing for status ailments, which is unfortunate, because many of the monsters in this section of the game have blinding attacks. When we first meet him, he tells the story of Pandora's Box as a means of explaining to Terra why they need her to join them. She's their ray of hope against the Empire's greed, hate, wrath, pride, and such. Afterward, Banon says he's tired and goes out for a smoke or something, while Terra somehow winds up in a bed for a minute before going around to talk to everybody else.
In the process of these conversations, there's a chance to get a little extra scene with Banon before the end of this chapter. To trigger it, find the scrap of paper by the top right corner of the big table in the main hall. It's nothing important, but funny all the same.
There's also a chance to get at least one more Relic, and perhaps more, though I think I may have screwed myself out of at least one here. There's this guy in the back store room who will give you a Genji Glove if you say no to Banon and then talk to him. I think that same guy might give you another Relic called the Tintinabar if you repeat the process a couple more times. It's a good one to have, but far as I've ever known, there's only one to have in the game. It would be nice if there were more, not just because I think I missed it here, but also because it restores HP to the wearer as the party walks, and it would be nice to have it on more than one person at a time. But I hardly ever use it, so not getting it is no real loss. There's also something called the True Knight in one of the chests. That one lets the user protect another party member from attack.
Once all that's taken care of, the group discusses getting Banon into Narshe so he can see the Esper for himself. As they do, a mortally wounded Returner comes into the base and says the Empire has found the place and is on the way. Locke is tasked with doing what he can to slow down the arrival of the troops while the others escape down the nearby river and get Banon into Narshe.
We'll get to see Locke again in a little while, but for now, we're going to focus on Terra, Sabin, Locke and Banon as they go down the river on a makeshift raft, fighting monsters and trying to keep Banon safe as they go. If Banon goes down, it's game over. Making things difficult is the first appearance of the comic relief villain Ultros. He's got a one-hit kill that can end things right here if it gets used on Banon. It seems to me that there are conditions that make that happen, but it still seems random to me.
The good news is that Ultros can always be beaten, even if he does keep coming back to be a pain in the ass. In this case, Sabin goes in for one last attack after Ultros and gets sent for a loop that sends him down a different fork of the river from the rest of the party. We don't get to see what happens, but maybe it's the Ultros Boogie that an artist by the name of Hyadain made a song about.
As the raft goes one way and Sabin goes another, we're on our way to one of the more interesting parts of the game. When we pick up next time, we'll be starting with Sabin's segment of these three that happen at roughly the same time, though we'll play through all of them separately. I'd make a funny title now, but I can't remember the exact order of events. So we'll see you then, folks.