"Is it bright where you are/
Have the people changed/
Does it make you happy/
You're so strange."
-- The Beginning is the End is the Beginning, Smashing Pumpkins.
"C'mon, granddad, you've got to get up and eat this. You have to keep your strength up."
All of my life I've been a soldier; bred to slaughter, taught to destroy.
I hated it. Always. From the day my sword was first blooded, up until the moment I betrayed my Empire, I hated the killing.
"No! Don't die on me! You promised you'd stay here with me!"
Leaving didn't stop the destruction and the death, though. They seemed interwoven with my destiny. The only thing that changed was the affiliation of those who fell by my hand, and which side I was on in the horrors that came to pass.
Celes Chere knelt on the dirty floor of the makeshift cabin that was her home, sobbing brokenly as her hands clawed against the blankets that covered Professor Cid's wasted body. The old man had been her entire world for the long weeks that had passed since she had awoken into this dark new world, weak from a coma that had claimed her for over a year. But as she grew stronger, Cid only grew weaker, as if whatever force had given him the strength to keep her alive all this time was finally ebbing away. The illness that had been ravaging the old man's body had finally claimed him, despite Celes' best efforts. Despite her hysterical prayers to gods and goddesses unseen, and despite all her tears.
I am, after all, a tool of destruction. I can never truly heal. Slowly, the woman pulled herself to shaky feet, and looked at Cid's face. It was drawn, pale, smudged with dirt. He looked more like some malnourished prisoner of war than the slightly-overweight professor she'd once known with laugh lines around his eyes.
Tears falling freely down her cheeks, she leaned in and kissed him gently on his forehead, then drew the blanket up over his face.
Alone. Unbidden, her gaze moved to the glassless square frame that made up the shack's window. A few dozen yards away, the tide rolled in and out, bringing with it bits of rock and other debris from all over the world, or whatever was left of it. And just beyond, the bloody horizon. The skies had been choked with the destruction resulting from Kefka's madness, muting the sun through a filter of dust as its rays fell on dying lands.
Dying lands. Funny thought, that; for all Celes knew, everything else could have already been dead, save this solitary island she was trapped on. Her friends were dead, after all. Why not the world as well?
The woman's eyes went to the floor suddenly, matted blonde hair falling in her face as she choked back another sob. All of my friends. Dead. Even Locke. …Why?
"What hell is this!?" she screamed, throwing one hand out wildly in front of her. It struck a clay pot on the table in front of her and sent it flying into a wall, where it shattered.
Broken. It's all broken. Everything…so broken.
The former general could scarcely feel her feet move beneath her as she ran through the front door of the hovel. She didn't notice her lungs begging for breath as she rushed half a mile or more through dying grassland and over rocky hilltops. She couldn't even feel the tears that wet her face as strong winds blew dust in her eyes.
It didn't take long before she came to her destination: a rocky cliff set at the northernmost part of the tiny islet, overlooking the ocean. She slowed herself as she trudged silently up the short incline to its zenith, her faded white cloak flowing out behind her. She looked much as she always had marching into battle ascending this hill, she realized with a bit of a self-deprecating smirk. A soldier unto the end, even though no glory can await me.
She reached the top all too quickly, her eyes set firmly against the line where the sky met the sea like a bleeding sore. I always thought I'd die in battle. It seemed a penance that, for all the death I caused, eventually I would be done in by those with higher ideals than my own. But look at me now… I've outlived the world itself. And all of my friends, even Locke…
Her face went down, as tears again threatened to overtake her. As it did, out of the corner of her eye she noticed a bird laying on the ground. Blinking surprisedly that she hadn't noticed it before, she turned and looked at it fully.
Dead. The bird, apparently some sort of seagull, had broken its wing somehow - dried blood from the injury was spattered all over its feathers - then starved over several days, or bled to death, or-
What does it matter? Just another broken thing. I feel like a chess piece, the last black pawn left on the board after the victor has swept all the other pieces onto the floor and crushed them. The game is ended; I am but a leftover.
Her eyes went back to the horizon. I should be dead too.
It would be so easy, wouldn't it? Just a few short steps forward. She wouldn't have been the first to go over this cliff. Another twisted smile appeared on her face for an instant as she recalled what Cid had said on the subject.
'Whenever the boredom or despair got to be too much for them, some would come up here and take a quick jump off this cliff. Perked 'em right up!'
One foot went in front of the other, and she found herself staring downward involuntarily, down a few dozen feet to the sight of the water crashing against the rocks. If she hit right, the fall alone could probably kill her. A few instants of pain, and then finally… peace. Something that Celes had never truly known.
Another step forward, and she found her instincts for survival shrieking in her head. Fear of death should be long past by now. It's just a question of quick or slow. Another few steps, and it's over now. I don't have to be alone anymore. Or I can push myself back to the shack, stare at granddad's corpse in envy, and eat fish until they all die too, and mark another notch on the list of things I've outlived before I starve. Hell of a choice.
But what would Locke think of… this? Her last vestiges of restraint asked, grasping desperately for some motivation to stop this seeming inevitability.
For a moment she froze, too, and she almost backed up. Until realization slapped her in the face.
What does it matter what Locke would think? Locke is dead. Broken, and forgotten to this hell that Kefka left in the wake of his madness.
She felt tears brimming in her eyes yet again, and cursed her weakness. This has to END NOW NOW NOW.
And, almost effortlessly, she took another step and jumped from the ledge. As she fell, her eyes shut tight both against her tears and the sight of the water rushing up to meet her, she noted how free it felt, if only for a moment. Her cloak whipped about her, as if it were made of stuff like the broken wings of the seagull, and not simple cloth. Like an angel ascending from the netherworld into Heaven's embrace.
And then she hit the water, and the dream was shattered as she felt pain greater than any heartache engulf her, become her, and then silence her.
It was the roar of the tide that brought Celes back to consciousness, though it would be several long minutes before she realized that that was what it was. Agony cried out from her every muscle as she pulled herself up slightly, spitting seawater and sand from her mouth and then letting her head fall back in it as the waves lapped at the lower half of her body.
Her initial confusion was replaced with astonishment that she was still alive, an astonishment that was soon enough allayed with an overwhelming sense of misery and cynicism.
If there are gods beyond the three statues, they are the most twisted beings imaginable. How… can this be? Why? I don't want this world, there's nothing left!
She pulled herself to one knee as her rage grew, ignoring the pain that tore through her at the movement. "Why did you bring me back here? I never asked for your help!" her words, meant to be a shout, came out in a croak through a throat parched with seawater. As it was, a cry that was meant to frighten the gods only caused a nearby bird to cock its head curiously at the bedraggled woman and hop a bit closer. She scowled, fully intending to bat the foul thing away, when she noticed that one of its wings was bound in a rather familiar-looking bandanna.
"That…. that's Locke's bandanna! Where did you get that?" Slowly, carefully, she reached out to the bird and untied the scrap of cloth, looking it over in disbelief. But sure enough, there on one corner, the initials LC were sewn. Celes grinned broadly. For a "treasure hunter" with little concern for others' property, Locke was certainly a possessive man.
"Locke…. he's alive!" And the others… could they have made it too?
She pulled herself to shaky feet, not letting the pain faze her through her sudden euphoria. Maybe… maybe the game isn't over. She stood still for a long moment, just looking down at the piece of dyed cloth in her hand. And maybe I can be something more than I have been. Quietly concentrating, she summoned up energy from deep within, and cast a cure spell on herself. The flash of warm blue light flowed over her, easing her pain to bearable levels.
Maybe even a tool of destruction can help to heal.
Her eyes went out to the horizon, as they had earlier in the day, but this time she did was not looking on the wasted landscape. Instead she looked beyond, at whatever fates there were that had let her see this, that had spared her though she wished death.
Was this a curse… or a gift? So much remains uncertain. So much needs changed.
There was one last moment of doubt within her, as she realized fully the magnitude of what needed to be done, and her without the slightest idea of how to begin.
But then her eyes went down to the blue bandanna grasped in one hand.
Either way, I'll make the most of it. I have to find everyone… I have to find him. After that… we can put the pieces back together.
As she rushed from the beach back towards the little shanty she'd lived in so long, new purpose in her heart, the bird that had worn Locke's bandanna flew off to the east. At its back the sun melted into the ocean; a spectacularly beautiful sunset with a million shades of red and orange bursting in the evening sky.
"We will meet again another time/
No matter what the others say." - To Be With You, Hoobastank.
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